Beware office jargon disease

Language consultancy The Writer has compiled a list of the corporate phrases we love to hate. In the top spot: 'Think outside the box'.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Ever found yourself referring to ‘blue-sky thinking’ or ‘low-hanging fruit’? That means you’ve fallen victim to the dreaded office jargon disease. Almost impossible to cure and extremely infectious, it can spread through whole organisations like wildfire. To try and inoculate innocent professionals against dangers of jargon disease, MT brings you the results of The Writer’s 500-person-strong survey into the most abused and jargon-heavy phrases doing the milk rounds at the moment.

•    74% participants voted ‘touch base’ as the most offensive phrase to read at work
•    72% didn’t like ‘I’ll socialise that’
•    70% chose ‘think outside the box’ as their most-hated phrase
•    unprompted responses showed that ‘blue sky thinking’, ‘reach out’, ‘ducks in a row’, ‘take offline’ and ‘cascade’ were also unpopular
•    over a third of respondents (36%) thought that their colleagues’ writing was ‘not at all’ or ‘barely’ effective at work
•    in contrast, 58% said that their own writing at work was ‘very’ or ‘impressively’ effective.

Neil Taylor, creative director at The Writer, says: ‘These phrases taken out of context are so ridiculous they’re laughable.’ MT would also argue that some of them have made the transition into the totally surreal. Are there any clever graphic designers out there who would care to illustrate the crazy world of office jargon with its bleeding edges and thought showers, we wonder?

And now for your reality injection. Here are three tips from The Writer to turn your writing from gobbledygook into decent prose:

Write more like you speak: When we talk we’re much more likely to be personable, confident and engaging. Writing is just like speech, on the page. So, think how you’d phrase things in conversation, and start by writing that down

Be bold. Be brave. Be interesting: Take a close look at a bit of writing you admire. Chances are, the writer is being much more dramatic than you realise: Are there bold opinions? Short sentences? Questions? Bits of rhythm, repetition, rhyme? Stories that draw you in? Metaphors and similes that snag in your mind like velcro? And don’t be afraid to nick tricks from great business writers like Warren Buffett or the late, great Steve Jobs.

Read your stuff out loud: It’s the single most effective test for any bit of writing. Can you say your sentences easily in one breath? Do your words flow, or do you stumble over clunky phrases? Can you read it naturally, or do you put on a bit of a funny voice because you’ve actually written something you’re embarrassed to say out loud? Your voice is giving you clues

Got a most-hated bit of jargon? Share it with us below.

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