Jargon, waffle & nonsense: a New Year’s resolution

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I have a new year’s resolution to keep this year. It’s very simple, but I will try to stop using acronyms and to make sure that all my clients understand what I’m on about. Sounds very simple, but as I’ve discovered, talking what sounds like nonsense to others, happens all the time and all over the place in working life.

As well as being Head of Client Services for a creative agency (the excellent Hotfoot Design in Lancaster) I also have a few other things I do, namely being Chair of Governors at a Primary School, a City Councillor and a trustee at our local Foodbank. All of these jobs come with an entirely different set of acronyms and jargon, unique to their own sectors.

I have spent hours of my life trying to decipher Council documents, filled with three letter acronyms that are a total mystery to me, standing for concepts that I don’t understand, leading to me calling fellow councillors late at night to plead for their help in understanding what something stands for on page 94. It’s the same with school (although I’m more practised at these now – FSM, EAL, PPG anyone?). It takes time to learn this stuff and it is important that I do learn it and that I know it, but in the context of my day job, it made me realise how often I do exactly the same thing to my poor clients.

How many times have I sat in a client meeting and talked about “UX” or “Functionality” or “SEO” or “URLs” or “Lorem Ipsum” when a client who works in a different sector entirely looks at me with perplexed confusion? The thing is, it’s not only confusing, it can also be rude. It can make a client feel silly for not knowing and they aren’t there to be a councillor or a trustee – they are buying a service from us and arguably they don’t need to know what these things stand for; I need to be better at explaining what we’re going to do.

There’s really no need to communicate badly, so I am going to try to stop and to make sure that 2020 is filled with lovely, clear, simple and sensible communication that everyone can understand. To add to this, there are some other pearls of wisdom that I’ve gathered on this topic from various places that have really helped me to communicate better in a job whereby I am constantly, constantly in contact with clients from the start of my day to the end. I hope they might be useful to share, and will be trying my best to remember them myself!

If you end up in a string of more than five emails, pick up the phone. Writing loads of emails takes ages, and if it’s something that requires an answer and it’s urgent, call your client and ask them.

If you are emailing, re-read what you’ve written and try cutting it in half. You can usually get to the point quicker than you think. Again, it’s simpler, easier and saves everyone time.

Write with as much simplicity and clarity as you can muster. There’s no need to overcomplicate language as it puts a barrier between you and your client. Be as simple, natural and down to earth as you would be if you were speaking to them face to face.

If in doubt, test out your copy on someone (a long-suffering spouse in my case) who doesn’t do what you do. Does it make sense to them?

Remember that the national reading age is quite low – around eleven. If you are ever writing content for the general public then you need to bear this in mind. This tool (and any others that are based on the Flesch-Kincaid readability scores) is pretty useful if you want to check that your copy is age appropriate.

Joanna Young is Head of Client Services at Hotfoot.

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