I always thought Thanksgiving wasn’t complicated. That is, until I saw people trying to explain it.
Earlier this week, several people were trying to explain Thanksgiving on a message board I frequent to people in Europe. They debated whether it was or wasn’t a religious holiday, its origins, and its purpose. However, as far as the Europeans were concerned, all they wanted to know why people weren’t going to be around on Thursday. A simple, “it’s an official holiday at the end of the harvest season set aside for people to be thankful for what they have,” would have been enough.
Many times, we forget that being clear and concise can solve more problems than trying to create a Rube Goldberg machine. (That’s why we’re called Practical Software Solutions and not Complicated Software Solutions.)
When I mention journalists are taught to write at a ninth-grade reading level, some people assume it’s because average readers are unintelligent. It’s actually because in the days before the mobile revolution, information still needed to be quick and accessible. Traditionally, most people read the morning paper before leaving for work or while commuting. (It’s also why in-depth and feature stories are saved for the weekends. People had time to read them.)
- Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous
The main idea of Orwell’s essay centered on politicians who hide lies and ineptitude behind a mask of flowery words and phrases. Some people are hypnotized by a large vocabulary, while others see through it like the Emperor’s New Clothes.
There’s two reasons why these rules also are important in a business sense. Even if you’re not a professional writer or speaker by trade, most people communicate sometime during the course of their workday, whether to coworkers or to the public. The more clear and concise your communication, the less chance mistakes will be made.
For example, let’s say we’re at a warehouse and an order is placed for 5,o00 boxes of 2-inch nails. The warehouse manager can call out the order like this:
“The organization forthwith appropriated an order from an esteemed patron who wishes to acquire five millennium of boxes containing 2-inch nail fasteners. Tarry not, as said purchaser shall not abide by our tardiness.”
Or like this:
“Pull 5,000 boxes of 2-inch nails, please. Customer is waiting.”
Again, this has nothing to do with the intelligence level of the warehouse employees. It has to do with giving clear directions. (It’s also a good idea not to try to sound like you’re the smartest person in the room. You may open the door to finding out you’re not.)
The other reason is to avoid being taken in by unscrupulous businesses who talk a bigger game than what they are. Just as in politics, there are some people who will be taken in by a business who sells them a well-scripted line. Someone looking to do business with your company may know how to speak your industry’s language, but did they just look up a few phrases on the internet to fool you?
Always remember to ask in-depth questions. If all someone can do is talk in jargon, they may not have a full understanding of what they’re talking about. It’s that simple.
We’d like to wish everyone out there a happy Thanksgiving! May your bounty reflect the love and goodness shared with those close to you.