Tell Your Business Story With Jargon but Not Gobbledygook


Tell Your Business Story With Jargon but Not Gobbledygook

As promised, I’m continuing my short series of articles on helping you to tell your business story successfully.

In my previous article, Tell your business story with pictures to draw attention and interest, we looked at using graphics in your proposals. So now in this article, we are going to deal with the words, and the first issue I’m going to address is the use of jargon. You may be surprised to learn that I’m not going to tell you that you can’t use it. Quite the opposite in fact.

First, we need to establish what ‘jargon’ is.

Jargon is the ‘in’ language of a profession. It is all those words used by people in a certain industry that the rest of us don’t understand. Not so long ago, I assisted an electrical contractor to prepare a tender submission for installation of a large pump and had to come to grips with a whole lot of electrical industry jargon very quickly. They were talking about capacitors, PLC’s and SCADA. Lawyers talk about an indictment, prima facie, and subpoenas. Scientists talk about pH, electrical conductivity and ionic balance.

Jargon vs gobbledygook.

Yes, there is a difference. The world of business also has its own jargon, that most of you reading this will understand. Economies of scale, KPIs, and golden handcuffs are examples. Unfortunately, though, business jargon often crosses over into gobbledygook.

Gobbledygook is defined by the Collins Dictionary as “Talk or writing that is wordy, pompous … and largely incomprehensible or meaningless.” If you do an internet search on jargon, you will see that the two terms are often used interchangeably, but I like to separate them. This makes it easier for clients to decide what should be in a proposal, and what should never escape a word processor onto a printed page.

Jargon, to me, is a legitimate language used within a profession or industry to convey meaning. Gobbledygook is, well, gobbledygook.

Politicians are experts at gobbledygook, and so are many, many people in the world of business. The example below is brilliant. You can only wonder how long it took for a corporate communications expert to come up with this sentence of nonsense:

Jargon has its place.

In a tender submission for an electric motor, the tender contained all manner of words that I simply did not understand; but both my client and the buyer certainly did. But the industry jargon was placed in well-constructed and completely understandable sentences and paragraphs, so it certainly wasn’t gobbledygook.

Jargon has its place in a proposal or tender, but gobbledygook doesn’t. However, there is a caveat on the use of jargon. I advised the judicious use of graphics in your documents, and the same goes for jargon. If it’s industry language or jargon used by your client and you need to use it to make sense, by all means, go ahead. Talk about the subpoena, the SCADA or the ionic balance. But if it’s your own jargon, that your potential buyer may not understand, leave it out.

In our company, we use a document management system for our policies, procedures and processes called TKO, but I don’t expect our clients to understand what those letters mean unless I include an explanation. Remember too, that it often won’t just be subject specialists evaluating your proposal, so in spite of the jargon, they have to be able to understand it as well.

I see far too many people fall into the trap of trying to impress their potential buyers with complicated language and finish up writing gobbledygook; which doesn’t impress anyone. How would you feel reading this in a proposal from one of your suppliers?

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  • Renee Hasseldine

    Bronwyn, this is a great piece. I recently discovered that I term that I favour wasn’t readily understood by my audience. So, I had to work out better ways to explain it to them. I keep the term, but I don’t rely on it solely to explain what I do. There’s definitely a balance of educating people about the term while still keeping it easy to understand. Jargon has a place, but your’e right, it needs to be used judiciously.

  • Desley Cowley

    Love it Bronwyn. How would you shorten the gobbledegook example you highlighted? Perhaps ‘the concise financial report is a summarised version of the full financial report’?

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