Written by Julie Babb

Here at Part and Sum we have a distinctive way of doing things, from the way we work to the way we present ourselves visually. It’s not just about catching potential clients’ attention — although that is one goal. It’s also about being true to who we are as human beings, and wanting to create an environment that supports our interests, values and personal growth. You know, because we’re human beings, and so are the clients we work with.

If you’ve read our newsletter or blog posts, you may have noticed that we try to avoid business jargon when we talk about business. That’s no accident. Our in-house editor [Ed. note: Hi!] helps us catch jargon in first drafts and suggests clearer, more human ways of expressing ourselves. This means extra time and attention before we can hit send or publish, but it’s worth it, and here’s why:

  1. Jargon is lazy. Can’t think of the right word or phrase to convey your idea? Whatever. Just grab the nearest buzzword you saw on someone else’s PowerPoint. Part and Sum is many things. Lazy is not one of them.
  2. Jargon signals a lack of creativity. Surely you’ve rejected logo designs or marketing strategies because they’re “too bland” or “not original enough.” Just as a generic logo reflects poorly on your brand, generic language reflects poorly on you.
  3. Jargon insults your audience’s intelligence. We don’t believe in dumbing things down. We believe in taking the time to explain complicated concepts in ways that people can really understand. And yes, we believe people can understand complicated concepts.
  4. Jargon is confusing. In a world where people are barraged by emails, newsfeeds, social posts, pop-ups and push notifications, why would you risk confusion by using vague, imprecise language?
  5. Jargon excludes people. Too much jargon can create an in vs. out dynamic: those who get it and those who don’t. Often, those who get it have certain privileges to begin with, like traditional education and work experiences, or access to people who use jargon the most. Those who don’t get it may be newer to the field, have landed in their current role via unusual paths or lack a mentor who’s looking out for them. Using language everyone can understand means happier people, a stronger team and more perspectives with which to form ideas.
  6. No one likes jargon. No one. Not one person. Not the people who write it, not the people who read it. Nobody ever reviews a dense, jargon-laden document and thinks, “Gee, that was a pleasant experience that inspires me to get to work on this project.” No. You read it and consider quitting your job to hike in New Zealand.

Okay, so we’re passionate about this. Still, let’s be realistic, sometimes jargon is unavoidable. Certain industries have adopted terms that you need to use in order to get your point across, and that’s fine. Context matters: Telling your COO to review the ROI on an RFP is perfectly sensible. Telling a marketing brainstorm group to circle back with a win-win USP is just a bummer for everyone involved.

We’ve thought a lot about why jargon persists despite its obvious drawbacks. One of our theories is that jargon has become so pervasive, people have simply accepted it as a cost of doing business — it’s one of those inevitable lame things you encounter at work, like a jammed printer or a tedious weekly meeting. Another theory is that people don’t feel empowered to speak up against jargon, or they may fear sounding critical of others, especially their managers. And finally, there’s that old chestnut: “Well, everyone else is doing it,” which is often code for “I have no idea how to stop doing it.”

We’re here to tell you that it is possible to do business without masking your thoughts in jargon. You can break free and communicate better, starting right now. These tips will help:

  1. Read things that aren’t about your industry. That means novels, poems, essays, memoirs, journalism, graphic novels. Aside from expanding your brain and making you smarter, this will introduce you to new ways of using language. Longreads is a great source for narrative essays. Goodreads can recommend books in any genre.
  2. Listen to things that aren’t about your industry. Podcasts, TED Talks, radio interviews, oral history recordings — whatever you’re into. Listening to language can teach you about conversational expression, rhythm and pacing, and will make you a better speaker, too.
  3. Don’t let grammar and style questions hold you back. Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips are a fantastic resource. If you’re searching for synonyms, Thesaurus.com can spark ideas. You can also consult your company’s style guide, if there is one — even if you don’t work in a creative role.
  4. When writing or speaking about a business topic, pause and ask yourself: How would I explain this to a friend who doesn’t work here? Write down the first things that come to mind. This can help you figure out what you’re really trying to say. Once you know what you’re really trying to say… say that.
  5. Workshop it. Have a trusted colleague review what you’ve written and offer constructive feedback, and offer to do the same for them. It’s always easier to spot the jargon in someone else’s work. And remember, constructive feedback is never a personal attack. It’s all about improving the final product.

That’s it! We hope you’re in agreeance with our dialogue around best-of-breed communication, and that you’ll utilize our advice to leverage clarity for an authentic paradigm shift. [Ed. note: Seriously?!]

Just kidding. We hope you’ll join us in making the world a more coherent place by eliminating jargon, one sentence at a time.