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Ban This Word: “Bandwidth”

Last week in a Better Business Writing class, two people writing separate documents used the word bandwidth at the same time. Neither one of them was referring to “the transmissions capacity of an electronic communications device.” Both were referring to time, I think.

Their uses of bandwidth were similar to these:

  • Jason will take over most of the receptionist’s duties. However, he will not have the bandwidth to order refreshments for meetings.
  • Our customers use our service because they do not have the bandwidth to research products on their own.

Jason does not have bandwidth? Customers do not have bandwidth? Those sentences make me worry that Jason and our customers have limited abilities and poor time-management skills. I don’t like to think of them that way.

How about “Jason will be working on team goals and will not be available to order refreshments” and “Our customers are using their time well, focusing on what they do best”? I feel much better thinking of Jason and our customers as smart, successful professionals rather than people stretched beyond their “bandwidth.”

I read about the bland overuse of bandwidth years ago, but it wasn’t until last week’s Better Business Writing class that I witnessed two savvy women using it at the same time.

Enough! Ban bandwidth from your vocabulary unless you mean, well, bandwidth. There are so many accurate, apt words to choose from.

Are you seeing bandwidth in the writing at your workplace? Please share your experience.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

11 comments on “Ban This Word: “Bandwidth””

  • I do not even understand the word is something about internet connection and that’s is for me with this word. Small association possibility for me as well.

  • Thank you for raising the alarm against this particular buzzword. This is a prime example of jargon-creep – coming at us from the computer geek community. What an offensive bit of nonsense! I’ll put this one on my to-do list for a future blog post.

  • In my working environment (not very influenced by IT jargon) it does not occur. However it is completely unnecessary unless in a technical context involving communication capacity or such…

  • Lynn,

    Thank you for criticizing this piece of jargon.

    I have a client who used it in an email with me and I quite literally did not know what he was saying. I believe he meant it as a way to convey “mental capacity” but it got me wondering what the heck his Internet connection had to do with the topic at hand. It required two additional email exchanges until I fully understood his point.

    Marcia Yudkin

  • The use of “bandwidth” to mean capacity – mental, time, etc. – is very common in the telecommunications industry. I abhor using language that makes us sound like the machines we sell. Another offensive word would be “interface”, as in “I interfaced with my staff this afternoon”, when I really had “met” with them. It is a matter of jargon creep as you said.

    I introduced my own expression to replace “not enough bandwidth”, which could simply mean “busy” with a much more visual expression – my hair’s on fire. People immediately visualize you running down the hall with your hands waving, like your hair is on fire or how you feel inside if you are so busy, you can’t possibly take on another project. A bit dramatic but a lot more fun and the meaning is clear without implying incompetence. At first “hair’s on fire” was limited to my immediate group of colleagues but as their use of it has spread, it’s become common use for many more people globally. I do get a chuckle when I’m meeting people for the first time and they say they need my help because their hair’s on fire. 😉

  • Urgh, what a nasty little word. You’re right, it does sound like a euphemism for “not very bright”. It should only be used by people who don’t have the bandwidth to appreciate that fact.

    I’ll add it to the growing list of banned words I’ve been blogging about recently.

  • Well, I see I am not alone in my worries about the spread of “bandwidth.” Thanks to all of you for commenting.

    Please spread the word that “bandwidth” is the right word only within a thin area of technical communication.

    Anne, I’m not sure I want to think of you with your hair on fire. It sounds so painful and scary!


  • Karen, we can ban “at the end of the day.” But do we have to ban “thought leader”? Someone called me that today, and I loved it! Yes, I guess I am being self-serving.

    Thanks for your suggestions.

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