Utilising, leveraging and other copywriting taboos

In our last blog, we explained how the key to effective business writing lies in overcoming the fear of writing itself. We’ve found that there is something about the process of converting thoughts to keystrokes that strikes fear into people’s hearts. Suddenly, conveying the simplest message becomes mission impossible.

The fastest route around this problem is to stop writing altogether and imagine you are explaining your point to someone you trust and respect. A valued colleague, perhaps, or an older relative.

Eliminate taboos in your business writing

While this technique is very useful when it comes to rationalising sequence and structure, it doesn’t always eliminate the taboo words and phrases that define poor business writing. But it should. After all, why would you ever inflict atrocities such as ‘leverage’ or ‘paradigm shift’ on anyone, never mind valued colleagues or older relatives?

So, we figured now is a good time to list some of the written atrocities – words and phrases – that have no place in effective business writing, beginning with some easy targets that regularly clog up the Top Copy Communications taboo filter:

‘Utilise’ instead of ‘use’.

‘Prior to’ instead of ‘before’.

‘Whilst’ instead of ‘while’; ‘amongst’ instead of ‘among’.

‘In order to’ rather than ‘to’. Notwithstanding, thus, moreover, albeit… The list goes on.

And then there is ‘leverage’. We have been in the copywriting business for over 30 years. Although we have lost count of how many times we have deleted this serial offender from our clients’ copy, we cannot recall a single instance of hearing it used in a real-life conversation without cringing. Enough already!

Avoid these phrases in your writing

So much for our single-word taboos. What of phrasal copywriting crimes such as ‘paradigm shift’? Back in the 1980s, thrusting young executives ascending the corporate pole would wield this phrase around meetings and presentations as if it were some badge of honour or status symbol. Like a Filofax or a pair of shoulder pads. The phrase actually originated in the early 1960s and refuses to die. Perhaps that is because it simply means ‘fundamental change’, a permanent feature of the corporate landscape. In which case, why not use the term ’fundamental change’ or ’transformation’ rather than a term that has become a quaint cliché? Like Filofaxes and shoulder pads.

Which brings us onto a younger Top Copy Communications taboo: ‘speaking to’. Would you advise an elderly relative that you wish to discuss some issues that ‘speak to’ her retirement plans? Would you ask valued colleagues if you could address some questions that ‘speak to’ the Christmas party? We certainly hope not. Which is why the term ‘speak to’ has no part to play in credible business writing. Ever.

Ditto ‘going forward’. As in: ‘Going forward, we will be speaking to a number of issues that will bring about a paradigm shift in our business’. You might think we’re making this type of sentence up. But we’re not. Which is inexcusable when the English language has gifted us terms such as ‘in future’ and ‘looking ahead’.

No-no words and phrases constantly come and go and we all have our personal bugbears. It’s the nature of having a living language. But we’d like to conclude our thoughts on the taboo word problem by repeating the solution: if you want someone to understand the point you are making, make your point by using words and phrases they trust and understand.

Effective business writing really is that simple!

Do you have any other taboos that make you cringe when you hear them? Leave a comment to let us know. If you want to know more about how to improve your business writing, you may enjoy this. And if you'd prefer to leave the writing to the professionals, we'd love to hear from you.

2 thoughts on “Utilising, leveraging and other copywriting taboos

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *