To Cliché or not to Cliché, that is the question?
Dec 04, 2015
People often ask me if they should use well-known phrases, jargon or acronyms in their business writing. Most people would warn you to stay away from such childish things, but I believe they are wrong. As with so many other writing etiquettes, it all depends on who your audience is and the message you are trying to impart. We all know that “you can please some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time”. But when you understand that you are rarely speaking to “all of the people” you can start writing to your target market far more effectively.
For example, if I am presenting a taxi service to a law firm I might tell them that my booking software can allocate ‘case numbers’ to their journeys at the time of booking, for ease of recharging. This simple reference demonstrates that I have knowledge of their business, and its use in the sentence shows that I understand a need that they almost certainly have. Using industry lingo in this scenario is powerful and does not need to be explained – in fact, it would be counter-productive to do so. Similarly, if I was writing to a military organisation and I talked about being ‘in theatre’ they would know that I was referring to a live scenario in a potential battle zone, and would assume that I had a level of experience or insight into their world. Others might question its use (thinking hospital or West End) but they were not my market.
It’s not life and death, but it helps to know your audience…
As a rule, we are taught that whenever you use an acronym in a document you should write it out in full the first time, and generally speaking I agree. But imagine you were writing to a doctor, informing them of how your service could improve the effectiveness of CPR after an RTA. You would not need to explain these acronyms to any medical person and to do so would probably be an insult to their professional intelligence. (In fact, if you know any doctors who have a problem understanding these terms I would suggest finding a different one.)
Using lingo to close a deal…
One of my favourite ways of using unexplained jargon is as a ‘call me’ teaser. I’ve used this on some of my own marketing materials, where I list my ‘seven secrets to employ when crafting powerful sales copy’. One of these secrets suggests the effectiveness of using ‘dual readership paths’ in your writing. The other six secrets are pretty clear, but I deliberately do not explain this phrase because I want to encourage the question that might follow… (ie. To open a conversation and generate client engagement). This can be a powerful tool, but I would advise that you only do this as part of a deliberately planned strategy to get a response.
In summary: Think about who your reader is, then give them the benefit of the doubt about the language you use (people love to feel that they are in the know). Elsewhere use plain English and explain the obscure if needed – but most of all don’t be boring.