Career Success and Clear, Concise Writing

Cathy, my wife, is having shoulder replacement surgery today.  That’s the result of 36 years as a flight attendant; lifting bags and pushing carts.  I’m sure she’ll be fine, but I would appreciate it if you would send some good thoughts – or prayers if you are so inclined – her way today and in the days to come as she rehabs her shoulder.

I saw an interesting article in Fast Company Online the other day called, “The 7 Iconic, Transparent, Empowering Business Buzzwords That Need to Die.”  I always enjoy tongue in cheek career success advice, so I thought I’d pass on these iconic, transparent empowering business buzzwords with my interpretation of what author Tim Phillips has to say about them…

  1. Issue – a problem in disguise
  2. Passion – so overused that it now has no meaning
  3. Unique – if everything is unique, nothing is unique
  4. Iconic – why not say desirable?
  5. Role – it’s a job
  6. Transparency – you can claim transparency without actually doing anything
  7. Empowerment – a sneaky way of dodging the brand promise

I’m not sure if I buy all of Mr. Phillips takes on these terms, but he is on to something here.  Most business communication is full of jargon.  If you want to creat the life and career success you deserve, you need to cut it out and communicate using short, easy to understand words.

Tweet 111 in my career advice book Success Tweets says, “Become a clear concise writer.  Use simple, straightforward language.”

Clear, concise writing is one of three important communication skills and an important key to career success.  Here are four enemies of clear, concise writing.

  • Too many words.
  • Passive voice.
  • Polysyllabic (big) words.
  • Jargon and cliches.

In this post, I’ll show you how to avoid these problems.

Too Many Words

I write in a pretty straightforward, clear manner.  However, when I reread my writing, I usually find that I need to cut, rather than add words.  Here are some sentences that I’ve picked out of some of the business correspondence I’ve received lately.  All of them have too many words.  Below, you will find the wordy sentence, followed by my suggested rewrite.

Wordy Sentence: At this point in time, we should, or perhaps I should say we must, proceed to examine our policy of sales incentives.
Rewrite: We need to examine our sales incentive policy now.

Wordy Sentence: I was unaware of the fact that your device could be used for security purposes.
Rewrite: I didn’t know your device could be used for security.

Wordy Sentence: The reason I failed to reply is that I was not apprised of the fact until yesterday that somehow the report had been unavoidably delayed.
Rewrite: I didn’t reply because I didn’t know until yesterday that the report was delayed.

You can see that I was able to cut down the length of each sentence without changing the meaning.  If you want to become a clear, concise writer, work hard at eliminating unnecessary words.  Carefully read what you write, and ruthlessly cut any words that don’t add to your message.  This is important career advice.  You should use the exact number of words you need to accurately and completely get your message across – no more, no less.

Passive Voice

The active voice is always better than the passive voice.  It is more forceful and direct.  Here are some examples that illustrate my point.

Passive Voice:  Plans for the conference will be made by my assistant.
Active Voice:  My assistant will plan the conference.

Passive Voice:  An error has been discovered by our staff.
Active Voice:  Our staff discovered an error.

Passive Voice:  The mistake in billing was rectified by the supplier posthaste.
Active Voice:  The supplier corrected the billing mistake quickly.

Polysyllabic Words

Sometimes, it’s tempting to show off your vocabulary.  Unfortunately, when you’re showing off, you’re probably not doing a good job of communicating.  When my niece graduated from college, I gave her a copy of my just published book, Straight Talk for Success. I told her that I was trying for an “avuncular hip” tone, and asked her for her feedback once she read the book.

She looked at me and said, “What does avuncular mean?”  I said, “Uncle-like.”  She said, “Why didn’t you just say so?”  She had a great point.  She’s no dummy, graduated magna cum laude and has gone on to some great career success early on.  However, she didn’t know what the word “avuncular” meant.  Whose problem was that?  Mine.  I should have used the most easy to understand word; in this case that was two words, “uncle-like.”

I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I used to enjoy Law and Order – especially when Jack McCoy was the Assistant DA.  “Hubris” was one of Jack’s favorite words in his jury summations.  I remember watching some shows where he used this word and wondered why he didn’t say “arrogance.”  They mean the same, and more people are likely to know the word “arrogance” than know the word “hubris.”

Several years ago, I read Stephen King’s book, On Writing.  He is a big proponent of small, easy to understand words.  To illustrate his point about small words, he shared a passage from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath – one of my all time favorite novels.

“Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold.”

That’s a 50-word sentence with 39 one-syllable words and 11 two-syllable words.  If you’ve read the book, you know how well this writing explains the lives of itinerant workers during the great depression.  The career advice here is simple.  Read over what you write, strike the polysyllabic (I mean big :)) words, and you’ll communicate better.

Jargon and Cliches

Finally, eliminate jargon and clichés from your writing.  Don’t assume that everyone who will read what you write is as up on jargon as you are.

You might not believe me when I say that I don’t watch a lot of TV, as I have another great example from a TV show.  If you spend any time on the Internet – especially Twitter – you know what the expression “wtf?” means.  Cathy really likes the show, Modern Family.  It won a couple of Emmys this past year.  I think it is pretty funny too.

In one of the episodes, the father was trying to show his teenage daughters that he was pretty cool and with it.  He said something like, “I know about these Internet abbreviations…. omg – Oh My God, lol – laugh out loud, wtf – why the face?”  Remember, some of your readers may be as clueless about things you take for granted as the father on Modern Family.

Cliches are another problem for clear writing.  If “it goes without saying,” don’t say it in writing.  When you say, “To be perfectly honest…” I wonder if you’re usually not honest in what you say.  Read your writing carefully for clichés.  Cut them.

The common sense career success coach point here is simple.  Follow the career advice in Tweet 111 in Success Tweets.  “Become a clear, concise writer.  Make your writing easy to read and understand.  Use simple, straightforward language.”  Reading what you write is the key to following this career advice.  When you read your writing, look for words that you can eliminate and for ways to use the active, rather than passive voice.  If you put these common sense pieces of career advice to work, your writing will improve greatly.

Thats the career advice I gleaned from the Fast Company online article about overused jargon terms in today’s business communication.  What do you think?  Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for reading my daily musings on career and life success.  I value you and I appreciate you.

Bud

PS: If you haven’t already done so, please download a free copy of my popular career advice book Success Tweets and its companion piece Success Tweets Explained.  The first gives you 140 bits of career success advice tweet style — in 140 characters or less.  The second is a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to http://budurl.com/STExp to claim your free copy.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

PPS: I opened a membership site on September 1.  It’s called My Corporate Climb and is devoted to helping people create career success inside large corporations.  To celebrate the grand opening, I’m giving away a new career advice book I’ve written called I Want YOU…To Succeed in Your Corporate Climb.  You can find out about the membership site and get the career advice in I Want YOU… for free by going to http://www.mycorporateclimb.

 

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