Phishing or Fishing? Speak Your Reader’s Language

Podcasting, adware, RSS feeds, firewall–these terms are all commonly found in blogs, on high-tech web sites, in consumer-focused articles, and in PowerPoint presentations across the globe.

But do readers know what these words mean? According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, many do not.

Here are some statistics gleaned from a U.S. nationwide survey of 1,336 adults, conducted by phone in May and June.

Percentage of people who responded that they "have a good idea what the term means":

  Spam – 88%
  Firewall –  78%
  Spyware – 78%
  Internet cookies – 68%
  Adware – 52%
  Internet "phishing" – 29%
  Podcasting – 13%
  RSS feeds – 9% 

Not surprisingly, significant differences in levels of awareness were noted between men and women and between younger and older adults. For example, these groups have a good idea what the term adware means:

  Men: 60%
  Women: 44%
  Age 18-29: 55%
  Age 65+: 31%

Other responses for each item were "Not really sure what the term means" and "Never heard the term."

What does this information tell us business writers? It’s the age-old advice: Know your audience. If your readers think "phishing" is something one does with a pole and some bait after having one beer too many, they are probably right! Be sure to speak their language.