The conversation around eliminating jargon from public relations writing has been going on for decades. Many reporters have railed against the stilted, suffocating language in news releases. And much has been written (including by yours truly) about the importance of eliminating jargon and buzzwords. Yet we continue to have a difficult time weaning ourselves from jargon and corporatespeak.
There are several reasons behind the hesitance. Everyone resists change; buzzwords, superlatives and hype make your company sound better than it is and it is easier to write fake, robotic quotes than bother an executive or subject-matter expert to provide one of value and substance.
If your headlines and releases are filled with words such as solutions, leading, synergy, cutting edge, out-of-the-box, state-of-the-art, world class, revolutionary and seamless, chances are your releases will be deleted quickly. Break yourself of the habit of writing bad releases by taking a page from The Big Book.
With apologies to Bill W., here are my 12 Steps to Jargon-Free Writing:
1. Admit you are not powerless over jargon, even though your life may be unmanageable. Admitting that you have been writing robotic news releases is the first step to becoming a better writer.
2. A power greater than yours can restore sanity. That power is good writing.
3. Make the decision to turn your will over to stronger writing. Work to improve your headlines and lead sentence to improve the chances that a reporter actually will read your news release and want to write a story based on it.
4. Make a searching and fearless inventory of past jargon used. Review old news releases, pitches and other writing and highlight jargon, superlatives and boring robotic executive quotes.
5. Admit to your wrongdoings. Sit down with your executives and educate them on the importance of crafting releases that will be read and result in better placement because they are interesting.
Let them know that reporters hate words such as solutions, synergy, world class and revolutionary. Everyone uses them and they have lost all meaning.
Coach executives on providing substantive quotes that add to the value of the release.
6. Remove defects from your writing. Removing jargon and bad executive quotes is a great place to start. But take it a step further and edit your copy. Eliminate the fluff, trim the fat. Remember the rule of threes and limit yourself to no more than three key messages in the release. Repeating a few key messages underscore their importance.
7. Realize the shortcomings in your writing. This is similar to numbers 4 and 5 above. It, however, means that you may need to admit that others on your team should be writing releases rather than you.
8. Make a list of reporters who have had to suffer your boring releases. Work extra hard on every piece of writing going forward to ensure you are providing time-strapped reporters with solid writing and real news to share.
9. Don’t go back to using jargon, even when tempted. If you successfully remove jargon from your writing, it is important that you eliminate it from your everyday vocabulary as well. Stop speaking in jargon and it will not creep back into your writing. Push back when executives try to reinsert jargon and buzzwords into your writing just because those words are comfortable for them.
10. Keep an inventory of words to avoid and don’t use them. Many of those words have been mentioned above. Add to the list and refer to it often when writing.
11. Seek knowledge of good writing. Tight, succinct jargon-free writing conveys a much stronger message. Learn to tell a good story by reading articles penned by the best writers.
12. Carry the ‘No Jargon’ message to other writers. Be an advocate within your organization and with clients for better writing, from news releases and media pitches to speeches and op-ed pieces.
The original 12-step program deals with a serious problem. I am not equating it with PR writing. But breaking the habit of bad writing takes a concerted effort. Using the 12 steps will help you improve your PR writing one day at a time.
Reg Rowe is founder of GrayHairPR, an international virtual PR agency based in Dallas, TX. He can be reached at rrowe@GrayHairPR.com
This article originally appeared in the February 16, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.