Our intrepid correspondent in Australia recently ran an article that struck a chord with us and we thought we would share it with our readers.
By Ken Newton, Editor-in-chief , The Automotive Technician, Australia
When was the last time you received one of those generic ‘To our valued customer’ letters from a phone company, a bank or a government department that made any sense?
I once got a full one page letter from my local Telstra manager that was so full of jargon that I read and reread it and still couldn’t make any sense of it. I was so incensed I wrote them a letter in which I pulled out every nonsensical paragraph and asked for it to be explained. The manager phoned me. He thought he was doing me a favour and was anxious to explain it all to me. I listened and at the end I had to admit I didn’t understand a word he said. I tried to tell him that he was talking in what is termed ‘excluding jargon’ that only other Telstra operatives in the know would understand. He didn’t get it.
As a magazine editor, I get loads of gushy stories from all manner of companies and many of them are so badly written and full of words that only they know the meaning of because of their in-house usage, that they end up in the bin. It’s just not worth my time to decipher the language, determine what the story is and then re-write it so that our readers can clearly understand it.
Many of them come from PR companies that, I would assume, are staffed by writers with communication degrees.
It is obvious that many of these writers have never worked in a real newsroom and therefore have never learnt to write clearly, logically and in plain English, so that everyone can understand.
A story I read recently by the author of a book called The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century asserted that the curse of knowledge was the best explanation for why good people write bad prose.
What these writers don’t seem to understand is that their readers don’t know what they know – the writer doesn’t bother to explain the jargon or spell out the logic or supply the necessary detail.
I raise this subject because it applies to everyone in the auto trade, which operates on more than its fair share of excluding jargon. Do you really think your customer comprehends all you have said when you launch into a detailed explanation of why the ECU had to be replaced because the CAN-bus had failed to communicate with the O2 sensor.
You may not realise it, but there are ways to explain clearly what is wrong with a car and what you intend to do to fix it. The more a customer understands what you are talking about, the easier it will be to get paid for the work.
The information you provide on the invoice needs the same treatment. Make it understandable as far as possible to the layman. Don’t just regurgitate your technical jargon.
Remember that your readers or your customers know a lot less about your subject than you do. Unless you make the effort to communicate in language they can understand you are guaranteed to confuse them, annoy them or even lose them to a more inclusive, informative competitor.