4 clarity killers that PR pros should avoid

Communication is essential to landing your messages, but many writers gum up the works with common clogs. Here’s what to look for and how to eliminate them.

PR is built on sharing clear and concise ideas, so communicators must avoid the common writing pitfalls that muddle strong work.

Here are four prominent “killers of clarity” that professionals should look out for, along with hints about their identity and advice on correcting them:

1. Euphemism. A euphemism is an innocuous word or expression used in place of one that might be offensive or suggest something unpleasant. However, euphemisms also make your writing less accurate and honest, such when you say, “He passed away,” instead of, “He died,” or, “She was downsized,” in place of, “She was fired.”

Euphemisms can fuzz the facts. A statement such as, “The amount of goodwill carried on the balance sheet, when compared to total assets, is high” is vague, compared with, “We have too much goodwill on our balance sheet compared to ready cash and assured receivables.” Say it plainly, and you’ll be viewed more credibly.

2. Gobbledygook. This refers to speech or any other form language that is nonsense (gibberish, jibber-jabber) or appears to be nonsense: “Marketing driven by strategic thinking, precision targeting and response building creativity … plus, performance enhanced through process efficiency, campaign management tools, and cost saving quality initiatives … XYZ impacts our clients’ marketing success from both the topline and the bottom line.” (This excerpt is from an actual marketing agency brochure, name deleted to protect the guilty individual.)

If you write like this, then you’re cheating yourself and your employer or client.

3. Hyperbole. Hyperboles are statements or words of exaggeration. In poetry, they can evoke strong feelings and create strong impressions. In PR prose, though, hyperboles make a writer untrustworthy: “The five-step data evolution process begins with data atomization, which breaks down IT data, regardless of its source, to a granular level. It then enriches the data with identity management, relationship analysis, purification and historicity.”

Can you get a clear picture from that sentence of facts and information? Know what you’re talking about before you try to explain it to others.

4. Jargon. Jargon refers to words used in a context that can only be fully understood by experts on a subject. The context is usually an occupation (i.e., trade, profession or academic field), but any “in group” might have jargon.

Consider this conversation:

“What’s your business?”
“I’m a PR consultant.”
“What do you do?”
“I work with clients to develop strategic two-way symmetrical messages driven by critical theories such as cognitive dissonance, third-party endorsement, dominant coalition, and relationship management.”

Would that mean anything to a non-PR pro? No. People want clear, simple language.

The above four “killers of clarity” destroy logic, style, content, and meaning. In the process, they undermine your goals make you less trustworthy as a writer. Eliminate them before their actions end up undermining your great ideas.

Don Bates teaches writing at New York University. A version of this post first ran on PR Say.


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