What’s wrong with sounding like a seventh grader?

February 04, 2019 | Urja Khanna, Director - Client Strategy and New Initiatives

One of the most alarming comments that we had once received from a client was that our communication resembled an amateur college project. Worse still, we were told that it seemed like a seventh grader had written it. Typically, we are advised by clients to write content that is creative and simplistic yet 'business-savvy' and professional.
It immediately spurred us on to evaluate what strategic messaging should entail and if seventh graders must, on principle, be excluded from understanding it.
"What is the most effective way to communicate," we ask ourselves?
As an example, we compare two sentences from a Chairman’s message to his shareholders:
Sentence A. 'During the year, we undertook a rightsizing exercise, moulding the Company to optimise shareholder value.'
Sentence B. 'The reporting year witnessed your Company go ahead with a tough decision. As a result, unpopular as it may seem, we let go of some members of the workforce and focused on our shareholders’ concerns about our profitability.'
Albert Einstein's answer is pretty straightforward: 'If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.' The lesson we draw is a definite one: it is important to bring to the fore what you want people to know in a manner that is easy to understand. So, Sentence B definitely wins here!
Today, analysts use 'complexity grade level' and 'jargon' as parameters in their analysis. Using more jargon and, more importantly, a variation of language and style across quarters, is said to be an indication that you are trying to hide something or are less sure.
Our aim is to simplify our messaging to stakeholders, producing clarity of purpose. People distrust what they do not understand, or what they perceive as doublespeak, or things that are made unnecessarily complex. To communicate effectively, well-organised ideas should be moulded into complete, coherent sentences. Using highbrow English might induce verbophobia among the readers! The key is to abide by clear communication, which is an anchor of confidence. Good writers can say a lot with as few words as possible.  
New York-based data analytics firm CB Insights compared mobility CEOs across different linguistic algorithms, analysing their earnings-call transcripts.


It was seen that Zetsche, from Daimler, employed the least cryptic phrasing. Tesla’s Musk and Ford’s Hackett too were found to be low on the use of jargon.  
So, what have we learnt?
Avoid any gobbledygook (well, you might have to look that up!). Using jargon doesn’t make us look any smarter and simple doesn’t mean stupid. In fact, lacing information with fancy words for a piece of communication that is intended for a broad audience may not fully be understood and may even dent credibility. The way to our readers’ intellect is through simple language without the use of fillers, jargon or complicated, verbose paragraphs.
Messages should have three important factors:
1. Simplicity: Clear and precise language.

2. Authenticity: Sticking to facts without inflating them.

3. Consistency: It is highly desirable that a company communicates in the same language and tonality, from transcript calls to subsequent annual reports.
And, most importantly: Write like you speak.  
In sum, simple, factual and consistent communication is what makes companies stand out and build trust. Jargon is unhelpful at best and harmful at worst. For the sake of your readers, remember that there’s always an easier way to tell the story. One that seventh graders can comprehend as well.

"There's a great power in words, if you don't hitch too many of them together."

Josh Billings, 19th century American author