Up to Us by Rob Self-Pierson


A guest blog from copywriter and 26 collective board member Rob Self-Pierson on banishing jargon.

It’s simple. If the creative industry carries on speaking in jargon, jargon will win. It’ll seem natural. And we’ll never rid the business world of the sort of language that confuses, excludes and puts to sleep.

Rob Self-Pierson

Rob Self-Pierson

Jargon at work is a problem – everyone knows it and most admit it. Even the people who use it, when you point it out, recoil at the words they don’t even remember saying. But it’s everywhere – and it’ll be everywhere until we stop using it. Yes, we. We, the creative industry. It’s time to get our house in order.

Recently, I’ve been working in-house at a London design agency. The first thing they told me about the job they’d put me on was ‘We’ve been asked to get rid of the business speak and jargon’. Great, I thought – a business that wants to improve the way it communicates, and an agency that’s embracing that.

They showed me the client’s first stab at the magazine. Not bad – not as full of jargon as I’ve seen. But still a bit cold, distant, unnatural and formal. All because of the words, structure of sentences, pace and tone the writer had gone with.

After a couple of days of reading, tweaking here and rewriting there, I sent off a new version of some of the magazine. Feedback came in halfway through the week, some from the client and some from the agency. We went through everything and the person at the agency managing the job told me to implement the changes.

Five minutes later, a project manager across the studio told colleagues she wouldn’t progress an intern’s application. Then someone else told colleagues to apply some iterations, and two designers asked for new copy.         

Implement, to progress, iterations, copy. This jargon is tame. No value propositions, no pipelines. But the people speaking these words – actually speaking them – should know better.

But this isn’t an angry rant about businesses hiding behind business speak. This is about the opportunity we all have across the creativity industry to promote the use of clear, honest, entertaining, engaging, persuasive, natural language. The language that’s best for the consumer, the job and the brand. We need to show businesses the power of language by making the right decisions ourselves.

For many people, business speak has become the default. That’s a bit of laziness and a bit of not realising what they’re saying or writing. If we take more time, more care and pay more attention to the way we communicate with other people, we won’t ask them to implement changes, we’ll ask them to change something. We’ll move an application to the next stage, change the design till it’s working, and try some new words. We’ll avoid the abstract and start saying what we actually mean.

That’s scary to many people. You can’t hide behind clear and honest language – it tells the truth. So you need to be sure about what you’re saying and confident when you say it.

My job isn’t to moan about ‘bad’ English, poor grammar or to persuade businesses to write ‘properly’. It’s to find opportunities for people in business to communicate more clearly. And here’s an opportunity right now. We – writers, designers, brand consultants, marketers, and anyone else who’s employed by businesses to help them connect with people – can change the way people in business write and speak.

But first we need to keep an eye on what we’re saying to each other and the businesses we’re trying to help.

Rob Self-Pierson


Rob Self-Pierson is a freelance writer and board member of the writers’ organisation 26. He helps brands across the world find their voice and connect with people inside and outside their organisations. He tweets about writing and life at @robselfpierson


Hide Comments (4)Show Comments (4)
  • Richard Beer November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I agree with your opinion of jargon entirely, Rob, although I think you’re fighting a battle you can never win! People don’t use jargon because they especially want to: it’s tied up with the psychology of belonging to a group and excluding others, not to mention wanting to sound professional and ‘expert’ just by using bigger words, which ends up in a jargon-race to the bottom.

    Incidentally, I don’t think the word ‘copy’ is jargon. In fact, ‘copy’ meant ‘writing’ long before it meant ‘reproduction’, etymologically speaking.

  • BingoBango November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Nice article, and I agree with you entirely in principle… thought I think we need to be careful to differentiate jargon from using the english language correctly and intelligently (ie not dumbing down).

    As someone who works in a design industry – the examples you’ve given as spoken jargon actiually mean something – just because iteration isn’t the easiest work to understand (not the hardest either), doesn’t mean its not the perfect word to describe the design, feedback, improve cycle.

    Implementations are a quick way of describing showing how a design can be used in various environments.

    As Richard has said above – its when big words are used in lieu of proper understanding that it starts to degrade into nonsense (I’m looking at you, the public sector!)

  • Mike Hadley November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I genuinely don’t know what you mean by ‘no pipelines’ …..

  • outlethpgkp November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
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