Monday, June 2, 2008

A Tour of Corporate-Speak

I should clarify my earlier defense of authors who refuse to be clear. Lack of clarity coupled with lack of substance is not okay. In fact, it is a horrid sin against language, and an insult to your readers. Most corporate-speak, even on the internet (maybe even moreso on the internet), commits this sin.

I should also clarify my comments about the Flesch-Kincaid scale and other readability tools. It is to be expected that academic papers, scholarly writing, and even great novels will score high on any of these scales. Scoring high is neither good nor bad. It means the language is complex, that the person reding the document would need many years schooling to fully understand it. In some cases, this cannot be avoided -- the article that I could not get to drop below tenth grade dealt with distillation of oils. There were some words and concepts that simply could not be made simpler.

However, a high score, while it is not necessarily a bad thing, should never be taken as a good thing! Especially if you are writing about something that everyone who's been in a classroom should be able to understand. A score that indicates your writing is at post-graduate level, does not mean that your writing would get an "A" in a graduate level course. It means you use a lot of big words, and long sentences, and nothing more. Do not flatter yourself because of a high F-K score. A better indicator of your writing ability, would be to rework that text that scored a 25 and get it down to a 10 or 12, depending on your audience.

As I was doing some marketing work today, this text from a healthcare website caught my eye:

"HealthQuist is a unique, multi-faceted company providing a variety of services to the healthcare industry. HealthQuist assists healthcare providers, hospitals and individual medical offices alike, in achieving maximum proficiency across multiple facets of the business model.

"HealthQuist is an innovative and trusted partner who transitions, transforms and delivers world-class processes thus enabling healthcare organizations to provide the best in care to its patients."

This is just a big ugly load of crap. And it scored a 32 on the Gunning-Fog index, which according to JuicyStudio.com (a great place to look this stuff up) is evidence that they are "covering something up."

These scoring tools and systems are not the end-all method for telling if your writing is readable. The tools don't understand the words -- they just look at patterns, syllables, etc. The best way to measure your writing proficiency is to have other people read your work! Something that scores high may be beautifully written, and something that scores low may do so because it was actually written by a person with only a tenth grade education. But the converse can be true in both cases.

Now, back to the above text from Healthquist.com:

I like that they are both "multi-faceted" and work "across multiple facets."

I like that they have deemed themselves worthy of someone else's trust (a "trusted partner").

I like that they "transition, transform, and deliver world-class processes." Whatever the hell that means. Sounds like a lot of work I guess. And WTF is this "world-class" I'm always hearing about anyway?

This kind of writing says, in so many words, almost nothing about the business. And certainly nothing unique (although they beg to differ in the first sentence). The reader is left not knowing what the company really does, and is either mystified by the corporate-speak, or sees right through it and feels like they are getting hazed by a fast talker (or fast-writer in this case).

The tagline on the site says "Acquire resources to drive results..." Is that what they do? Is it a command? And, as always, what does it mean?

I will be going through many similar websites today at work. I am in for a treat of a tour of corporate-speak. I am sure I will have more horror stories to share from my travels. Maybe I will try to draft some paragraphs like the ones on Healthquist.com. It's always good to practice writing by working in someone else's style. I am not sure if I can make myself do it.

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