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Knowing the right terms improves clarity

Reviewing my newsletter from July 2010, I was reminded of the importance of getting your terminology right when writing – thanks to an example of poor writing from someone who considers herself to be a guru.

Clarity vs confusion

As a business, you have a message to get across to people which hopefully will lead to some action which helps your business.

A clear message will be more effective at engaging and inspiring action than a confusing message.

If someone doesn’t understand the message, they will give up and probably think little of your business. If someone misunderstands your message, you will waste time fixing misconceptions and possibly having to pay the price to rectify things.

Knowing the right terminology

Other than through dumb luck, it is next to impossible to give a clear message if you use terms you don’t understand yourself.

Instructions and manuals, vs directories and lists

Instructions and manuals, vs directories and lists

The poor example in my newsletter mixed directory and manual. I go to a directory to get details (such as a phone number of address) and a manual for instructions or procedures. The words are not interchangeable.Getting words right is important to communicating your business message. This is the basis of my Monday Meanings – to help people understand words (although it would never occur to me to define manual and directory to avoid them being confused!)

Your reaction

So how do you react when someone confuses a message through poor word usage?

Are you willing to spend time trying to figure out what a confusing message actually means, or do you give up and go elsewhere?

Scroll down and let us know what you think!

7 Responses to Knowing the right terms improves clarity

  • KennyK says:

    I would assume people get their message very clear before sending it out. However, I often see messages that aren’t clear or where a term is used in a wrong way. Personally my first impression of the company is bad, and my attention goes down if I have to go figure out what they really mean. Especially because in this information age, we get thousands of messages coming our way through various media. The message should be clear, straightforward and easy to understand in my opinion.

    • tashword says:

      I agree Kenny – none of us have the time or energy to work hard to find the message so the writer must make it easy for us. And poor word choice does little to help us 🙂

  • probono says:

    It is the writer’s responsibility to use terms that the audience will understand and to ensure that the message is grasped by the majority. The problem can be that different audiences will view terms differently.

    For example, you state that directory and manual are two distinct things. However, many people do use these terms interchangeably. The writer’s mistake was in not realizing that the audience she was addressing at that time, did not interpret those terms the same as the writer.

    • tashword says:

      I defintely agree that the writer must know the audience and choose words that will be read as intended.

      Dictionary definitions of directory/manual match my expectations and experience of these words so it shouldn’t have been hard for her to use them correctly (and she lives in the same city as me so it’s not a regional thing either!)

  • Joe Wells says:

    I have been noticing a lot of poor word usage lately on several blogs that I have been reading lately. If I am really interested in the message of an article, I will generally take the time to try to figure out what the author is trying to say. But it does bother me, the amount of bad writing there is out there.

    • tashword says:

      It bothers me too, Joe – it’s one thing to make mistakes in a personal context but on a website or blog I expect people to put in some effort to make it readable. We shouldn’t have to work hard to understand what the writer meant!

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