Tips to Improve Your Business Vocabulary
Written by Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Syntax Training
Apply these tips to improve your language:
1. Avoid using big words to impress readers. Use the simple aware rather than cognizant, extra rather than superfluous, and unique rather than inimitable. When you use words that are more complex than necessary, you lose readers. Remember that people read your messages for content, not for vocabulary enrichment.
2. Choose the most precise, simple word. Words have shades of meaning, so choose the word that best conveys your intent. Change hot to warm, scorching, or fiery to communicate precisely. In my writing, I use the expression “great relationships.” But what does great mean? Depending on the context, it might mean supportive, lasting, or strong–all of which are more precise than great. When I choose a more accurate word, I help myself and my readers be clear about my meaning.
3. Vary your word choice to avoid boring the reader. When you think you may have used an adjective such as excellent too often, do an electronic search for the word. The search should highlight each use. You can review the highlighted words and replace some of the excellents with words such as outstanding, first-rate, and superb. Your software program’s thesaurus will help you find good synonyms–but remember Tip 1 above.
On the other hand, when you use a noun to name something, use that name consistently so your readers know that you are referring to the same thing. For instance, if you refer to a “job aid,” avoid also calling it a “tool,” “program,” or “memory aid” unless the context makes it clear that all the expressions refer to the same thing.
4. Use acronyms and abbreviations with their spelled out versions–not alone. Some of your readers will not know that ROW stands for “right of way”; ETA, for “estimated time of arrival”; and NWT, for “Northwest Territories.” It is better to spell out your terms and communicate effectively with all readers than to ignore the needs of some. You have several ways to handle spelling out abbreviations:
right of way (ROW)
ROW (right of way)
right of way. The ROW is . . .
8. Pay attention to the great communicators in your company. Notice and copy the effective language they use. But do not adopt any use of jargon such as “value chain” and “mission critical,” which readers may see and hear often but not understand. If you do not have communicators in your company who can serve as role models, pick up a best-selling business book. Such books are typically written in short, powerful sentences using crisp, precise language.
Besides applying the language tips above, write short to medium-length complete sentences. Crisp sentence structures will protect you and your readers from getting lost in them. In addition to being easy to understand, short sentences come across as powerful and confident. The average length of sentences in this article is 15 words, with no complicated words that slow down your understanding. I wrote the article at eighth-grade level, which is the level of complexity I recommend for clear, strong writing.
Perhaps these tips for improving your business vocabulary were not what you expected. Were you hoping for ways to learn big, impressive words? You can find plenty of vocabulary-building exercises online. But those complex words–things like perspicacious and salutary–will not help you communicate successfully. Just use simple, accurate language.