Improve Upon Your Industry’s Lexicon
Industry is in the midst of a buzzword epidemic. This disease may effect you. Help is available. Read on to learn more.
Your industry has its own vocabulary. Some words are unique to it – geriatric, exchange traded fund – others are favored – staff in hospitality, employees in HR. Bankers sound alike. Investors sound alike. Startups sound alike. It’s easy to identify your industry’s shortlist of popular phrases or buzzwords. Here’s how:
Find five popular articles from your field. Copy and paste the entire text into a word frequency counter. Run the counter, and skim the list of words to see which standouts appear most often.
I recently ran the innovation industry through the this loop using articles from Harvard Business Review, McKinsey, and a few independent thought leaders. Here’s what it returned as an innovator’s vocabularic arsenal:
Opportunities, methods, lean, corporate, canvas, approach, processes, capabilities, customer, survey, perspectives, organizational, agile, stack, implementing, evidence, advance, training, sustaining, functional, flourish, outpost, methodologies, inhibit
If you’re in innovation you know this list doesn’t tell the full story. Collaborating, internal, risk, collaboration and so many more were listed, too. It’s not an innovation article if somebody isn’t ideating, filtering, kickstarting, or optimizing. They were on the list.
What do you do with a list like this? As a writer, you use it. A lexicon is a set of words that are referenced in mass by an industry. The words are agreed upon, familiar to all, and, when incorporated in your article, a sign that you are an insider, too. Go ahead and kickstart a program, develop an internal capability, or adopt agile or lean methodologies – but don’t abuse the list.
Any piece of writing that incorporates the lexicon with borderline brutality is unpleasant to read. That’s always a shame. There’s no good reason for any piece of writing to be unbearable. Warren Buffet, for example, makes annual reports enjoyable enough. There are dozens more independent, relatively unknown content creators making delightful content in any field you’ll find on a university’s curriculum. They’re following Vonnegut’s advice, “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.”
- Choose your words carefully. Aspire to at least be pleasant. Your industry is mired in muck, overridden with buzzwords. Your content doesn’t need to be. If you’re writing an article purely for SEO (to be found on Google), use the keywords responsibly – not so much that they rot the the reader’s interest.
- Read great analysis. Jason Zweig in finance. Zach Lowe in sports. Zach writes about the x’s and o’s of basketball, but he does so in a way that the reader barely knows he’s reading a research report.
- Forget word counts. If it can be said in 5 words, avoid delivering it in 6.
- Give your readers credit. If they’ve come across specialized content in industry, it’s unlikely they’re unfamiliar with the basic concepts. Write for peers, not beginners.
- Appreciate buzzwords for they are – superglue to hold the concepts intact. Superglue works well around the trim, or splotches atop each corner. Zig-zagging the glue gun is overkill. A phrase like innovation theater projects a complex idea. Let it pack its punch and move along to more delightful words and phrases.
Business content need not be read in tedium. Important insights are fragile and need to be delivered with care. Most of your competitors will write for volume, not quality. If you do respect your reader’s time, you’ll choose to publish content with a different approach.