Have you ever heard the expression, “he speaks fluent bureaucratese?” Perhaps you know the version that uses another “b” word (which we shall leave to the reader’s imagination).
No matter the version you know – or can state in polite company – it’s not a compliment. It’s a cry of exasperation from befuddled customers, clients, colleagues and collaborators.
Case in point: pity the poor reader that must slog through this soporific swamp of a sentence:
“(The department) plays a key role in continuous improvement, system development; and implementation, control and monitoring of new initiatives for divisional operations throughout the corporation by providing expert financial, control and business process advice and partnerships.”
Wake up! You dozed off there. Incidentally, that tidbit is from an actual document. Examples abound on virtually everyone’s desk.
We get it: people write in the language with which they’re most comfortable. Engineers write for engineers, researchers write for researchers, lawyers write for lawyers, bureaucrats write for bureaucrats. It seems we believe that using the arcane lingo of our professions will gain us credibility. We Will Be Taken Seriously.
Here’s a thought: no one can take you seriously if they can’t understand what you’re on about. Write simply; write clearly. Be confident in your material and in your own expertise.
Just because you’re writing simply doesn’t mean you will be thought simple. Make your writing accessible, make it compelling. Tell your story well. You’ll gain allies, gain influence, and most importantly gain an audience. Write it so people will want to read it. After all, isn’t that the point?
A few tips for better writing:
- Write in the active voice, present tense.
- Omit needless words (and get a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. This is Rule 13)
- Keep your references close. Make sure one is The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling (see the section on “Plain Words” in the back).
- Avoid long sentences (if you can’t easily read it aloud with one breath, it’s too long).
- Vary sentence length (for example follow a long sentence with a very short one).
- Don’t use a long word when a short one will do (“approximately” has five syllables, “about” has two; “additional” has four syllables, “more” has one).
- Choose common words over formal (“need,” not “require;” “help,” not “assist;” “use,” not “utilize”).
- You can leave out many instances of “the” and “that.” Read the sentence aloud; if it sounds fine without these fillers, cut them out.
- Beware baggy phrases like “at this point in time” (now). As for the phrase, “the fact that,” don’t. Just don’t.
Avoid clichés. And remember the first thing that pops into your mind is most often a cliché. Use your own words: be an original!