You may be surprised to learn which English words to avoid in business and what to say instead.
“Jargon is insecurity.” – Jason Fried, author of Rework
I recently had coffee with a fellow education entrepreneur, and I asked her about her opinion on gamification.
Other entrepreneurs had told me about this new concept. As an experienced teacher, she could tell me more. I love learning new things, so I really wanted to know more about gamification.
But when I asked her, she didn’t know what I was talking about. She had been a teacher for a long time, but she didn’t know what I meant with this specific word, gamification.
I explained what (I thought) gamification was, and she immediately said she had been teaching her students like this for years.
She was right. It turns out that she did know about the approach. She had been using it for years in her teaching job. But she didn’t know the trendy new word.
Gamification is jargon. It is just a trendy word for using game elements in business and education.
I was using jargon she didn’t understand.
Educators have been teaching with a playful approach for a long time. Now, this teaching approach got a fancy name, and it’s also used in business.
What is Jargon?
Jargon is defined as special words or phrases that are used by particular groups of people, usually at work, or in a specific industry, e.g. finance.
These words are sometimes called buzzwords or, in business, bizspeak. We often use them to impress colleagues, investors, customers
Do you know what these 10 important business English abbreviations mean?
You may ask, “But these words sound important. Why should I avoid them? What is the problem with jargon?”
Why Should You Avoid Jargon?
I used jargon that she didn’t understand. At the coffee shop, instead of saying what I really meant, I used a buzzword she didn’t understand. The situation was not ideal.
Your goal as an English speaker is to be understood. What you say should be clear.
I am not the only one who realized that using these trendy words is not ideal. Even the Harvard Business Review published a list of words to avoid in business called the “blacklist.”
The meaning of these buzzwords is unclear. Words like “innovation” are overused, so their meaning got lost.
Buzzwords can also become annoying because they are used so much at work. A survey of 1,000 Americans found the worst buzzwords used at work.
47% of the people said it’s better to use buzzwords in spoken English than in writing.
The survey also found words that using certain buzzwords can make you lose respect at work, such as “growth hacking.”
However, many words can help you earn respect, such as “best practice.”
The Wall Street Journal created a fun and interactive “Business Buzzword Generator” that generates sentences meaningless and overused words.
“Dynamic” and “disruptive” are empty and vague. They don’t persuade or impress.
Some words may be trendy but the listener is probably unfamiliar with the real meaning. Instead, you want to convince people.
It’s better to use standard words instead of jargon, new words, or buzzwords.
Tools to Help You Avoid Jargon
Luckily, technology is here to help us once again.
These wonderful tools help you find and replace unnecessary words in your text:
You can paste your text in this free tool and it will tell you which words are jargon. The tool shows you how much jargon you use, so you can replace some buzzwords in your text.
This is such a fun tool! If you have a word you think might be jargon, this tool helps you find the meaning of it and suggests clearer and better alternatives.
This is one of my favorite writing tools. Writefull is an app that gives you feedback on your writing by checking your text against databases of correct language. You can check how often the selected text is found, how it is used in context, translate from any language into English, enter two samples and compare their frequency, find the right prepositions, and find synonyms and definitions.
This is a fun and interactive dictionary and thesaurus which creates word maps with meanings. It shows you how a word relates to similar words.
You can use this tool to find the meaning of jargon words and some alternatives. Just type in the word you are looking for and see how the word is defined in the Visual Thesaurus. The tool then lets you choose alternative words with a similar meaning.
16 Great tools to help you with your English writing
Business Buzzwords: Words to Avoid & What to Say Instead
I made this list to help you avoid unclear communication in business. These words are mostly verbs and adjectives with an unclear meaning. Most of these are overused in business. Instead, be specific and say exactly what you mean. Here are some English words you should avoid:
I manage my time so that I optimize my productivity.
What to say instead: improve
We need to decide how our app and content can be monetized.
What to say instead: to earn revenue from something (a business, website, etc.)
We need a scalable process to receive funding and to meet our customers’ needs.
What to say instead: a business or system that is able to grow or made bigger
Our goal is to make this project actionable.
What to say instead: specific, achievable
The content on our website needs to be updated.
What to say instead: articles, videos, images
6. content creation
Content creation is a major part of our marketing strategy.
What to say instead: writing, making videos, etc.
All of our decisions are data-driven.
What to say instead: determined by the information that has been collected
Silicon Valley is bringing new disruptive technologies to healthcare.
What to say instead: in a new and effective way, changing traditional ways
Our chosen industry is complex and dynamic.
What to say instead: constantly changing, positive, energetic
The business needs to effectively leverage its key resources.
What to say instead: to use or take advantage of an asset, tool, or technology
We will pivot to a more profitable market after the limited success of the last product launch.
What to say instead: to change direction
12. ideate, ideation
Our company ideates and creates strategies for the coffee industry.
What to say instead: to think, come up with an idea
13. impact, impactful
His talk on gamification was impactful.
What to say instead: affect (verb), effective (adjective)
14. innovate, innovative
We provide the most innovative solutions for our customers.
What to say instead: new, improved
15. gain traction
Their social media startup has gained traction in the last year.
What to say instead: popularity, become popular
Our approach needs to be sustainable if we want to make a real impact.
What to say instead: long-lasting, able to continue
17. game-changer, game-changing
His innovation will make him a game-changer in the industry.
What to say instead: have a big effect on a business or industry
Conclusion: How to Communicate Clearly in English
When you write, give a presentation, participate in a meeting, or do small talk, try to remember to use clear words instead of new words with a vague meaning.
Remember, your goal is to be clear. Not trendy or innovative. That’s why we should avoid jargon in business English.
I learned this the hard way. But I hope this lesson will make your communication more effective.
10 Words you shouldn’t say to your customers (and what to say instead)
Now I Would Like to Hear From You
Which other business buzzwords have you used or heard?
Tell us in the comments below!