10 terms to avoid in business writing

Seeking clarity and power in your copy? Rid yourself of these verbal albatrosses.

In business-to-business writing, allowances should be made for poor word choices—except, that is, when it comes to these 10 unforgivable words. Whatever your industry, avoid these terms, because they are the fastest way to sabotage your message.

1. Really/very: Intended to add emphasis, superfluous words like really and very do little for copy other than take away its power. Think about it. Which comes across as stronger: “Our unique packaging keeps lettuce really fresh,” or, “Our unique packaging keeps lettuce fresh”? Remove these filler words from your copy, sales or otherwise, to make it more effective.

2. Learn: Just because you’re writing to businesses doesn’t mean your copy should require work to understand—and that’s just what readers will think when they see a word like learn. Learn connotes effort, just as studying did when you were in school. Try instead to communicate your message in a way that seems easy and understandable; your audience will appreciate it.

3. Free: You’d think it would pull in readers—offer a free download, a free trial, free shipping. But research shows that when it comes to B2B copy, the term free actually hurts business, yielding lower conversions and less-qualified leads. So rather than trying to entice Web users with free, provide a meaningful call to action reflective of what you offer.

4. Stuff: What is stuff? What does it mean? Writing words like stuff makes you seem lazy, like you wouldn’t take the time to be more precise. Rather than telling your readers, “This is the stuff good companies are made of,” be specific: Say it’s the proven results that good companies are made of, or the track record, or the business philosophy. Good B2B copy has no place for generic terms like stuff; take them out.

5. Innovative: These days, everybody wants to call everything innovative—but all that does is make the word less meaningful. Originally intended to describe a new technological development or a world-changing discovery, innovative now connotes little except marketing-speak.

6. Cheap: When you’re writing to businesses, you’re still writing to individuals, and individuals want to save money, right? True, but calling something cheap has a much different connotation from calling it affordable or cost-effective or competitive. Cheap signals a sense of poor quality or lesser value—avoid it.

7. Sell: Nobody likes to feel like they’re being sold to, so even when you are trying to market a product or service, stay away from words such as buy and sell that make it overt. Try instead terms like invest in or offer, or try another approach by avoiding the verb altogether and focusing on the product’s benefits (i.e., what do clients have to gain?).

8. Maybe/might: As much as possible, stay away from equivocating terms such as maybe, perhaps, and might. Whether you’re marketing a product or giving information about a service, you don’t want to come across to readers as being unsure of the benefits, or evasive about what it really does. Speak authoritatively about what you know.

9. Best ever/most/absolute: Superlatives are, more often than not, exaggerations, and when readers see that you’re exaggerating your claims, you’ll instantly lose credibility. Better to be honest and direct, making claims backed up by research or statistics.

10. Unnecessary “fancy” words: Of course, by its nature, B2B copy will sometimes involve long, specified terms—but using fancy words when you could use simple ones makes no sense. Instead of saying facilitate, say help. Instead of augment, use increase. Stay away from using long words just to use them, and opt instead to be clear and concise.

Shanna Mallon is a writer for Straight North, a leader among Chicago marketing firms, which provides SEO, Web development and other online marketing services. She writes for various B2B clients, from a Lombard dentist to the maker of stock packaging solutions.

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