Geek, Fluff, and Weasel
If you write clearly, people automatically assume that you think clearly too. But oftentimes, writing is a complicated, challenging, and very frustrating business. Many will agree with that people are more likely to speak effectively than write clearly.
But why do people write poorly? People learned to speak first. A good number of people even started speaking before they even turned one. And we only learned to write when we started attending school. So the brain is wired to speak, not write.
When writing, especially in business, and your goal is to be clear, there are three languages that well, do not work. At all.
- Geek: “Geek” is the language spoken by techies. People who speak Geek give the impression that they don’t care about the reader (though it may be far from the truth), or that they disregard the reader’s needs. Why do people use geek? When we are communicating with our peers, and co-workers, geek is quite useful. We find ourselves resorting to language that is comfortable, and familiar. It is more efficient to speak geek because we all understand the technical terms, jargon and acronyms.
- Fluff: When writing is vague and full of cliché expressions (state of the art, cutting edge, innovative, hardworking), it becomes less persuasive. It’s “fluff”! We often see this type of writing in marketing materials, websites, sales letters, and even resumes. Fluff produces writing that is wordy but unconvincing. It’s easy to avoid fluff—just back up our claims with details. (World class? Says who?)
- Weasel: “Weasel” words, when used often, gives the impression that we are being sneaky. Weasel words like “may”, “might”, “could”, “possibly”, “perhaps” and other similar words give us enough room to wiggle out of what we are really saying. If words were people and writing can be likened to a relationship, then weasel words are the commitment phobes. So don’t be commitment-phobic and use words that add value—concrete words that make is easy for the reader to understand what is being said.