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Public Relations

A Rant: Stop the Corporate Speak and Use Plain Language

With plain language, every reader will comprehend your meanings, just as brightly as the sun shines through the forest.

Plain language enhances readability

In the graphic design world, when we are working on a layout and don’t have actual text to be used in the design, we use what is called Greeking. You know what it is – it’s that text that always reads, “Loreum ipsum…”  While it’s actually Latin, it serves as a placeholder, helping the designer determine how text will flow around objects in the design.

There are Loreum ipsum generators which provide paragraphs of Greeking for use in layouts. Someone even came out with a Corporate Ipsum generator. The Corporate Ipsum generator provides semi-intelligible text (as opposed to Latin) which is based on the corporate speak/gobbledegook which passes for language in the hallowed halls of some publically traded companies. This is a sample of Corporate Ipsum:

Dynamically brand technically sound manufactured products rather than multifunctional vortals. Assertively recaptiualize multidisciplinary internal or “organic” sources after extensive total linkage. Energistically disseminate extensible leadership rather than e-business internal or “organic” sources. Energistically incentivize seamless supply chains and future-proof expertise. Holisticly negotiate leading-edge processes whereas open-source systems. Authoritatively pontificate out-of-the-box e-tailers for functional “outside the box” thinking. Quickly morph principle-centered metrics without e-business deliverables. Collaboratively repurpose visionary outsourcing with scalable imperatives.

As you read the paragraph above, did you just scream, “Enough!” I did. It is a mystery why corporations use dense language which obscures meaning.

Corporate ipsum is the opposite of plain language

While reading an  on-line publication, I came across a press release / promotion announcement which first paragraph reads:

[Name of Company], the trusted leader in human capital management, announced the appointment of [Name of Person] as its Chief Executive Officer. After successfully serving as [previous position] for the past year, Person has been responsible for tightening execution across the company and preparing the firm to broadly leverage its strength in workforce solutions. Named one of the fastest growing private firms by Inc. magazine, Name of Firm has transformed [redacted] processes with innovative, relevant solutions that drive high-performing organizations.

Do you have any idea what this person is going to do? Or why the promotion was earned? No. Neither do I.

What the heck is human capital management? Yes, I know it’s what used to be called human resources or personnel but human capital management makes it sound as if this company equates people with inanimate objects or just parts…to be managed, interchangeably. What’s even worse in my opinion is that this person is credited with “tightening execution” – for heaven’s sake! Who wants their CEO of human resources to be associated with execution –  some third-world dictator perhaps?

If the government can use plain language, so can corporations

Journalists don’t write like this. Even the IRS and government have been compelled to write in the everyday language.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires federal agencies to write “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.”

Doctors are instructed to provide health guidance in plain language. There is no reason that everyday language must be stupid or dumbed-down. There are many phrases that have explicit meanings and are more understandable than “tightening execution.”

Plain language enhances readers’ ability to understand and remember your message. Every press release your firm issues, every brochure you print, every ad you place ought to be comprehensible by every reader. If a single person is not able to understand what you mean because you have said your firm wishes to “broadly leverage its strength”, you’ve failed.

Don’t obscure your meaning

Plain language is the key that unlocks clarity in the readers’ mind. Corporate speak obscures meaning and detracts from comprehension. It lessens your readers’ ability to remember or recall your message. Resolve to use plain language in all your corporate or business communications.

3 thoughts on “A Rant: Stop the Corporate Speak and Use Plain Language

  1. I see this all the time in company mission statements and company objectives. It’s frustrating because you want to ask them plainly, “so what does this actually mean” instead of doing your best to decipher what it means. I have a friend who speaks in this language and it’s frustrating to talk to him because it sounds like he’s talking about some sort of mystic business practice when in reality he’s talking about simple processes. He’s been brainwashed by large corporations’ corporate speak.

    Good read, I too am sick of this non-sense!

    1. Mike, thanks for sharing my desire to rid the world of corporate speak. Recently a prospective client called and when asked what he wanted to do with his business, he answered, “Leverage established products.” When asked what he meant by that, he could not seem to answer in plain English. Finally, I asked, “Do you mean you want to increase sales of your current products?” To which he replied, “Yes.” It would have been a lot more simple if that was what he said. Too many have bought into the corporate ipsum babble.

      1. YES! My thoughts exactly, we waste time and energy by making things seem more complicated only to have to re-explain them when nobody understands us.

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