Business writing is inundated with buzzwords and buzz phrases—just try to find a slogan that doesn’t contain “cutting edge technology” or “think outside of the box.” They are hugely popular and accepted by most readers as everyday speech. But, does popularity and general acceptance indicate that buzzwords should be used in business writing? If you choose to use these catchy sayings, what should you keep in mind? And what pitfalls should you avoid?
What Are Buzzwords?
Buzzwords and buzz phrases pop up everywhere in business—resumes, sales pitches, reports, and more. They are some of the most overused yet least effective words in writing. Many people use them in a vain attempt to sound smarter than they really are. Buzzwords are designed to impress.
In reality, they do just the opposite. They can be tiresome, annoying, and deceptive. And they can muzzle communication. For example, instead of explaining how they would address a problem at work, a job applicant simply promises to bring their “A-game.” (Gee, thanks—that really cleared things up…)
And becoming dependent on business buzzwords as a writer can rob you of opportunities to search out more descriptive synonyms and provide practical details.
Common Buzzwords Used in Business
Here’s a shortlist of buzzwords that have exploded in the business world. Their ink has left a permanent mark on marketing, sales, and service. Although these buzzwords have successfully woven themselves into the very fabric of business communication, their value is questionable. In fact, some buzzwords are so overused that people almost cringe when they hear them. Why? Because they clearly lack real content and just sound superficial.
Here are a few common offenders:
- Next Generation
- Big Data
- Leverage Your Assets
Perfect examples of meaningless clichés. They don’t contribute anything of value to your writing. Not to mention, they can be hard to define—which means your reader might end up distracted and miss out on your message.
Should You Use Buzzwords in Business Writing?
The right words can convey your message or brand in a manner that evokes the desired response: an approval, a sale, a lease-up, etc. How you communicate in the business setting has a direct impact on how you are perceived. It can build a bridge of common ground; or tear down all your hard work.
It’s true, in some settings, buzzwords and business jargon are not only accepted but expected on some level (e.g., real estate marketing). Your decision to use them thoughtfully will depend much on the circumstances and your audience. In any case, the use of buzzwords needs to be weighed carefully.
Friend or Foe?
If you’re having trouble deciding whether or not using a particular buzzword is going to be a friend or foe, ask yourself these questions:
- Will my audience know exactly what this phrase implies?
- Will they know what it means a year from now?
- Is there more precise language I could use that adds substance?
- Is the market oversaturated with this buzzword?
- Does it make me sound pretentious?
If you answer yes to any of the above questions, you need to consider removing the buzzword. Here’s an example:
“Our guru marketing consultant is here to guide you through the campaign.”
The term guru refers to a spiritual expert or leader (Hinduism or Buddhism), not a marketing consultant with great instincts. This buzzword is used inappropriately and way too often. A better version might read:
“Our expert marketing consultant with 15 years of experience is here to guide you through the campaign.”
Read Like an Editor
Business writing demands clarity, engagement, and authenticity. Your goal is to inform, educate, and motivate your readers. Don’t let buzzwords or inappropriate jargon drown out your message. Read your copy like an editor—put yourself in the shoes of your audience. If you use a buzzword, an acronym (e.g., B2B or B2C), or technical jargon, be sure it adds value and will be easily understood. If not, replace it with text that provides helpful context, explanations to make a point clear, and useful details. Write succinctly and tell the reader precisely what, why, how, when, and where.
What to Avoid
Resist the urge to stuff your copy with trending buzzwords simply because you like the way they sound. Trendy words in business will soon become outdated. If your writing is dripping with buzzwords, your readers may quickly dismiss your work in the coming months or years.
And never make the mistake of using buzzwords or jargon to hide the fact you didn’t spend adequate time in crafting the text. Your audience will not be fooled; bad writing is just bad writing, no matter how pretty you try to make it.
Buzzwords have made some serious inroads into our vernacular. And more will follow. So, if you choose to use buzzwords in your business writing, remember to do so sparingly. Better yet, focus on improving your writing with precise and meaningful language.