By Ian Ségal
05 November 2019
Across the global landscape, from small organizations to large enterprise corporations, communication has not only been one of the most critical tools in business but is routinely overlooked for its value. And although people learn the art of language during their early years in secondary school through college, many still struggle with grasping its fundamentals. But beyond attaining proficiency, sometimes learning what words to use as well as when, how, and where cause greater challenges for people in differing environments. Remarkably, many have acquired a deftness for language in the business world through observation, practice, trial-and-error, and a determination to improve one’s craft. Such knowledge is typically cultivated through training and discipline—improving aptitude through an incessant devotion to reading and writing.
Building a Business Vocabulary for Effective Writing
The building blocks of effective communication are rooted in words. But, not everyone brandishes the same breadth of vernacular as the next person. Some have a talent for wordsmithing while others find themselves making their selection from a categorical bucket that lacks variety. Even those who pride themselves as having a broader vocabulary remain stuck inside a pattern of programmed communications—choosing words they have heard countless times in the workplace. Such choices usually mitigate the risk of not being understood by a receiver of a message; it also tightens the noose around differentiating oneself as an astute communicator. The effort becomes far more challenging when business language needs to be transformed into writing—the metamorphosis of oration.
Frequently, business writers have the daunting task of trying to decide which words within their vocabulary are fitting for a prescribed effort; some words are usually not part of the everyday language such as cognizant, endeavor, and initiate (Hogan, 2018). Some might even suggest that using a thesaurus to apply unique synonyms is the pathway to glorious writing. It is not. Uncontrolled flogging of a reference book can result in inadvertently twisting the sentence structure as well as the meaning and tone. This can culminate in the delivery of an unintended message. But, many writers will adhere to words that project efflorescence in their content to create a perception of both intelligence and professionalism (Hogan, 2018). Influencing the opinion of the reader remains principal to all writing efforts and choosing the right vocabulary can time and again be the difference-maker in effective writing.
With this said, research conducted by Dr. Daniel Oppenheimer at Princeton University unveiled another reality; studies found that readers generally opined that language written with everyday words was composed by people of great acumen (Hogan, 2018). Uncommon and dated words were believed to be chosen by writers of a lesser intellect. Dr. Oppenheimer concluded that words selected outside of common language negatively impact a reader’s evaluation of content and the writer. What this suggests is that the clear path to solid writing is paved with words carefully selected to convey a message absent of misreading—all while speaking in a voice that is understood and resounds with the reader.
Adopting a Language Strategy
With an enormous lexicon of words to choose from, the task of word selection and creating cohesiveness to build cadence is demanding. For business writers to produce compelling writing, they need to ensure that their readership understands the vocabulary in the same way they intended. This requires a level of transparency between the author and the reader which eliminates any potential obscurities. One method embraced by writers for assuring that the vocabulary they use is grasped by the greater population is by keeping abreast of current business dialect through regular reading of articles, journals, books, and news. In addition, the language of business needs to be converted to the voice of the writer to create the distinctiveness.
The relationship between words and culture. The dynamics of vocabulary can pivot a business to success. With expansion through mergers and acquisitions, entrance into new markets, and global opportunities, businesses understand the importance of persuasive language skills for marketing, public relations, and sustenance (Allcock, 2018). Combining a common business language with cultural awareness is beneficial for developing talent across an organization—whether it be interdepartmental or a multi-site presence. Finding the congruence between language and culture is key to enabling the fluidity of collaboration inside and outside a company (Neeley & Kaplan, 2014). This interdependence between writing and cultural awareness becomes the language strategy of a writer.
Corporate language strategy, leadership, and training. It is not enough to rest upon awareness for the orchestrated play of movement between business writing and culture. Defining governance requires planning, strategy, and training. Such a methodology helps facilitate the development of leadership through coaching staff while improving everyone’s competence in business writing. The first step in this journey involves implementing an approved business language strategy with a defined dictionary of accepted vocabulary and phrases (Kelleher, 2016). The background for this involves training across different technology media, such as learning management systems, face-to-face meetings, and self-study exercises. With different learning curves in a company, it is crucial to offer different approaches for mentoring business writing improvement. And, as an incentive for employee “buy-in” to such a program, building a reward system for promotional opportunities can result in both enthusiasm and focused learning for adoption and mastery (Kelleher, 2016). Training benefits not only internal communications but also impacts the exchange of business writings with outside clients, vendors, and other resources.
Business writing skills. To develop a successful corporate language strategy, it should encompass accepted writing principles that create a culture for unified communications. Some of these skills include but are not limited to writing in clear, succinct, and simple prose which reduce the exposure to misconception by a reader (Ellis, 2015). Additionally, business writing that is immersed in long-winded sentences featuring complex vocabulary and phrases can lead a reader to confusion and abandonment. And along with using a concise language with recognizable vocabulary, a writer must obey grammar rules and precise spelling. Irresponsibly overlooking the syntax of writing can trigger a negative perception of the writer by the reader—especially if that person is a prospective customer who will gauge the viability of a vendor through its communication proficiency or lack thereof.
Besides being mindful of vocabulary selection, grammar, and spelling, with readers having limited time and challenged attention spans in the modern age of technology distractions, an important strategy is to parse business writing with headings, sub-headings, and bulleted call-outs (Ellis, 2015). Sometimes, simply bifurcating content can create more visibility for the reader. This will require that the writer invests time and thought into properly framing the layout of his or her ideas into a framework for quick absorption by an audience. And to spin off of the audience focus, the time required in organizing the writing should also be coupled with creating a voice that speaks to the reader (Ellis, 2015). Altering one’s writing style for a targeted audience will benefit from a calculated selection of vocabulary understood by the readers; this will preclude alienating the audience, intimidating them, or even triggering discord from that readership. The trend toward simplifying business writing with more widely embraced vocabulary will continue to grow and infuse a host of written communications from emails to memorandums, reports, proposals, policy manuals, project plans, and more.
The vocabulary of business writing. As business writers within an organization accept the governance of a corporate-wide language strategy, improving their writing craft will also require attention to proofreading and editing. During the first read-through of a draft, a business writer needs to identify vocabulary that is not ordinarily spoken and replace those words with basic language (Hogan, 2018). And whether it be a word replacement or rephrasing a sentence, choosing the “wrong” vocabulary will not only compromise the written message but can easily create a perception of misgivings that the reader will have for the writer. With this said, the first draft is performed to get initial thoughts on paper—it is rarely deliverable in this incarnation. The next edits provide both polish and resonance while remaining mindful of word selection. Rewrites offer the business writer the opportunity for improvement and assurance that the audience will welcome the communication with comprehension.
And, sometimes beyond the liberal painting of vocabulary in writing, there is also a chance that a writer finds him or herself using a variety of business jargon to give the message a sense of expertise within the subject matter. The challenge herein remains with the reader—will he or she understand the idioms or other cants used by the writer? Although it is common to use words specific to various industries, it would behoove any business writer to choose vocabulary or phrases more readily understood by a larger audience (Hogan, 2018). Otherwise, the use of jargon can be received as balderdash by an unsuspecting readership. Moreover, when writing to an expert within a field, it is also advisable to refrain from using jargon to avoid stumbling with a sentence construction that demonstrates to the reader that the writer is embellishing with the misuse of clichés.
Above and beyond the jargon, a solid business language strategy discourages the use of acronyms that are not commonly recognized. For example, abbreviations such as IBM or FDA are more familiar to a general audience than those like AAPC (Accounting and Auditing Policy Committee) (Hogan, 2018). Furthermore, using alternative vocabulary for the proper names of an organization will not only complicate the content thread but will confuse the reader while he or she is trying to connect the dots back to the original label. To this point, and when dealing with a long organization name, it is encouraged to write it out once followed by parentheses containing the shortened version. For example, Masterson, Geiger, and Halladay would be written as: Masterson, Geiger, and Halladay (“Masterson”); this indicates to the reader that a truncated form of the name will be used going forward while keeping to its identifiable and recognized labeling (Hogan, 2018).
In summary, successful communication facilitated in business writing rests upon the incorporation of safeguards that both parties—writer and reader—understand the information in the same manner. The building blocks that revolve around effective written language are constructed through select vocabulary interwoven in phrases that carry the purpose of the author. And by layering business language with more simplified words, a writer can create the resonance necessary in producing a clear conversation that mitigates exposure to misinterpretation. From the initial draft through revisions, writers must invest time and diligence into creating a document worthy of distribution (Hynes, 2016). To affect a favorable outcome during the revision process, it is prudent for writers to be aware of the tactical approach to ensuring good business writing as demonstrated in Table 1 shown below.
The importance of vocabulary in business writing hinges on both word selection and its organization. As highlighted by Hynes (2016, p.178), business writers must endeavor to exact a clear and concise message through proper word selection, concrete statements, the efficiency with vernacular, and wrapped in a theme that is both conversational and positive while avoiding overused adages. And with coherent transitions across logical sequencing, a business writer can persuasively channel their intention through the successful discourse of business vocabulary.
Allcock, S. (2018, February 9). Why you need to understand the importance of language in business. Retrieved October 21, 2019, from https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/business-economics/business/need-understand-importance-language-business/22/01/.
Ellis, J., (2015, July 10). The 10 most important business writing skills you will need by 2020. Retrieved October 21, 2019, from https://www.business2community.com/blogging/10-important-business-writing-skills-will-need-2020-01270903
Hogan, R. C. (2018, May 8). What business writing vocabulary makes the writer seem intelligent? Retrieved October 21, 2019, from https://businesswriting.com/business-writing-vocabulary/
Hynes, G., (2016). Communicating with technology. Managerial communication strategies and applications. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Kelleher, T. (2016, February 5). Global organizations need to develop a corporate language strategy. Retrieved October 21, 2019, from https://trainingmag.com/global-organizations-need-develop-corporate-language-strategy/
Neeley, T., & Kaplan, R. S. (2014, October 24). What's your language strategy? Retrieved October 21, 2019, from https://hbr.org/2014/09/whats-your-language-strategy.