Originally published August 18, 2015
This is the second in a series of occasional posts about effective communications and English language usage. The first was Is it right to expect everyone to write the right way?which included ten points about proper usage. Here are ten more points about how to communicate more effectively.
1. Avoid buzzwords, insider jargon, and corporate speak. Use words and expressions that are widely understood. Some examples of words to avoid (from Corporate buzzwords: a white paper)
- Leverage (as a verb)
- The ask
Here are others to avoid
- Reach out
- Socialize the plan
- The optics
- Value creation
2. Use obvious terminology rather than arcane, esoteric, or exclusive expressions known only to a clique, the in-crowd, or a single organization. If there is a widely-known expression, industry-standard term, or well-defined abbreviation, use that instead of one known only to those previously initiated. This is especially important to avoid making newcomers to a group feel ignorant, left out, and isolated.
3. Spell out abbreviations, initialisms and acronyms (the difference was discussed in Is it right to expect everyone to write the right way?) so that your meaning is clear. For example, CRS means both “Cyber Risk Services” and “Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability,” so don’t assume that others will know the difference unless it is spelled out.
4. Don’t turn nouns into verbs, or verbs into nouns. Or stated in the form of a bad example, don’t verb nouns or noun verbs. “Ask” should not be used as a noun. Action, architect, author, calendar, caveat, gift, solution, and workshop should not be used as verbs, Instead of “We need to calendar the asks,” say or write “We need to add the requests to the schedule.”
5. “Amazing” means “causing great surprise or wonder; astonishing.” It is not a synonym for good or great, and should not be used as often as it currently is, in sentences such as “Your hair looks amazing!” Catch yourself before using it, and substitute a more appropriate, meaningful, and specific word. Or come up with a set of synonyms to offer variety, such as wonderful, fantastic, fabulous, etc.
6. When communicating, provide some context so others will better understand your perspective. Such context can include background, history, and objectives. If you are asking for help, see How to Ask for Help: 10 Simple Rules. If you are replying to someone, make sure you have the full context, and are replying to the latest message — see Before you hit reply.
7. It doesn’t take much time or effort to check the spelling of a word, what it means, or how to use it correctly. You can use Google to check spelling and proper usage. Just type in what you are planning to write, click on a few links in the results, and read the most reliable references. Don’t assume that you know the correct usage; take a moment to confirm.
8. An ellipsis (…) usually indicates an intentional omission of a word, sentence, or whole section from a text without altering its original meaning. When there is no omission, don’t use it to end a sentence; a single period does that quite well.
9. If you don’t know what an expression means, don’t use it. Here are three examples:
- begs the questions — An argument that improperly assumes as true the very point the speaker is trying to argue for is said in formal logic to “beg the question;” it does not mean “raises the question.”
- penultimate — means “next to last,” not “the very best”
- showstopper — means “a fantastic performance,” not “an obstacle”
10. Ten terms to treat thoughtfully — for items 1–5, use the second, not the first:
- don’t disagree — agree
- is comprised of — comprises
- should have went — should have gone
- the proof is in the pudding — the proof of the pudding is in the eating
- very unique — unique (or very unusual)
- fewer — a smaller number of persons or things (that can be counted); less — a smaller portion or quantity (that cannot be counted)
- phenomenon (singular); phenomena (plural)
- Traditionally, forte (strength or talent) was a one-syllable word, like its French etymon. Perhaps due to confusion with forte (loudly), a two-syllable pronunciation also came into common use.
- EST (CST, MST, PST, etc.) — used for times when Standard Time is in effect; EDT (CDT, MDT, PDT, etc.) — used for times when Daylight Savings Time is in effect — don’t use EST for times when Daylight Savings Time is in effect
- e.g., — for example (an example should follow, or an incomplete list); i.e., — that is (a clarification should follow, or a complete list) — Note: Always include the periods and follow the second one with a comma (not “eg” or “ie”, but “e.g.,” or “i.e.,”).
For more, see Posts about communications, grammar, & English usage.