Choose Relatable Words

23.08.2018 |

Episode #4 of the course Conversational writing: Engage your readers by Gay Merrill


In the previous lesson, you learned to use active voice and check the readability of your writing to make it clear.

Today’s lesson deals with word choice and covers three types of words to avoid: inflated words, jargon, and gobbledygook.

The words you choose in your communication can be either formal and off-putting (aka corporate sounding) or informal and friendly.

Since many people are reading at an elementary grade level, you want to choose words people understand and relate to.


What Are Inflated Words?

Cognizant, utilize, and leverage are what I call inflated words. They show off your vocabulary, but they also sound academic and a bit superior. To engage your readers in a conversation, speak with them, not at them.

Why write cognizant when “aware” will do? Or how about the often-used word, utilize? Isn’t “use” simpler and more direct? Do you need to leverage your cleaning skills to get your housework done?

The correction: Use a thesaurus and find a simpler word.


What Is Jargon?

The word jargon itself needs an explanation. Jargon refers to special terms, concepts, and acronyms that professions or groups use. Jargon is a language of its own for the “in-group.” And if you’re not part of the group, you feel left out.

A problem readers can face is coming to grips with technical terms and industry lingo. Don’t assume everyone knows your language.

If you’re a naturopath, you know what mitochondria are. If you’re a marketing whiz, you know the difference between B2B and B2C. Or if you’re a grammar geek, you can write about past participles and dangling modifiers. But does your reader understand those terms?

When using an acronym in your writing, a good rule of thumb is to write the full term and follow it with the acronym in parentheses. That way, readers who may be unfamiliar with the acronym have a quick reference. So, in my examples above, you might write: Business to Business (B2B).

The correction: Identify jargon in your writing (those in-group terms). Eliminate or provide a simple explanation of what the terms mean.

For a great makeover, read this article on how Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey edited a company memo to remove jargon.


What Is Gobbledygook?

According to Stephen R. Covey, gobbledygook (pronounced GOB-ul-dee-GOOK) is “language that is so pompous, long-winded, and abstract that it is unintelligible.”

Gobbledygook has become a common part of corporate lingo, consisting of overused catchphrases like state-of-the-art, world class, turnkey, scalable, and next generation. But what do these words mean? And how do they make you feel? Hmm. Skeptical? Confused? Irritated?

Consider the term “world class.” If you or you or your company advertises “world class” service, how would you describe that service? What specific qualities does it involve?

Gobbledygook reads and sounds corporate and alienating. (Fine if you’re the robot from Star Wars. Not so fine if you’re an earthling.)

The correction: Recognize gobbledygook and replace it with feel-good, meaningful words.



1. Get out your thesaurus and find a simpler word for each of the following:

2. Choose a technical term or jargon you’ve encountered while reading, and find a simpler word or explanation for what it means.

3. Pick a gobbledygook term—for example, turnkey—and describe it in everyday language.

4. Go through your writing and identify words that would perplex your reader. Write them down and find simple replacements.

Writing that lacks variety is dull and snooze worthy, just like a monotonous voice. The next lesson shows you how to vary the pace of your writing.

Have fun writing,



Recommended book

Talk Normal: Stop the Business Speak, Jargon, and Waffle by Tim Phillips


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