In a previous post, I tackled words that make your copy longer, not better. This post looks at words that make it harder for people to understand what you’re saying.
For better copywriting, cut jargon and simplify your language.
The first rule is to cut jargon. It obscures your meaning for readers outside your field.
Do those who don’t work with immigrants or refugees know what “settlement” means? (Hell, do immigrants or refugees know what “settlement” means?) Will anyone other than those who work social media know what “community management” is?
Be on the lookout for jargon. It pops up everywhere.
There are exceptions. If your readers are specialists who understand your jargon, using industry-specific language can show you are a fellow insider. But these exceptions are exceptions, not the rule.
Simplify your language
Simplify your language -- do not elucidate, streamline or demystify it. Simplify.
Simplifying your language is not dumbing it down. It’s making it clear for everyone. Even highly-educated people who can understand complex information prefer to read simple language below their formal education level.
A good practice is to aim at an eighth-grade reading level. I used this readability website to assess this post, which up until this point is written at a ninth-grade level — and so far, you haven’t found it insults your intelligence, have you? If you use Microsoft Word, you can set it to automatically check your document’s readability as it checks grammar and spelling.
10 words to cut from your writing
With this in mind, here are ten complicated words to cut from your writing.
You may think I’m being too touchy about these words. I’m not. Each word below is at a grade 18 reading level, or higher. “Incentivize” is a grade 32 reading level. “Systematically” is a grade 43 reading level.
Yet these words are used all the time, to the harm of the reader’s ability to glean meaning from the text. You need to stop using them, now.
1. utilize - better: use
2. enable - better: help, allow, make possible.
3. myriad - better: many
4. incent / incentivize- my spellchecker underlines incent in red, which is fine with me. Better: motivate, inspire, encourage, provide an incentive for
5. problematic - When writers say something is problematic, they often assume their reader will know why it’s a problem. Your reader may not. Be explicit. State: “This is a problem because…”
6. impactful - I hate this word. Like problematic, it doesn’t convey any meaning. “Our programs are impactful for our clients” leaves questions. What kind of impact? How? Better: “Our programs impact our clients by allowing them to make better financial decisions.”
7. collaboration / collaboratively - better: We work as a team, we work together.
8. tangible - better: concrete, real
9. differentiate- better: make different
10. analysis - better: study, research
In cutting jargon and these ten words, you'll go far in making your copy easy to read and understand, regardless of who is reading it.
PS - Make your copy even more free of clutter! Get your free cheatsheet with 50 words to cut from your writing by signing up for my newsletter.