This is a merciless attack on corporate speak phrases written by ordinarily sane, everyday middle managers and project co-ordinators who morph into corporate executives with a mouth full of multi-coloured marbles when allowed near a keyboard.
Corporate speak phrases are a bit like The 10 Worst Business Phrases of All Time. It was a blog post about spoken phrases – the fifth most popular one on the Sensei website.
This blog post tackles its cousin, The 8 Worst Written Business Phrases of All Time. It’s about corporate wordiness that leads to a lack of clarity in communication with clients and customers. Some of the examples you are about to endure were taken directly from real letters and emails.
The Inspiration for My Red Pen Rampage Against Corporate Speak Phrases
Once upon a time, I was asked to run a Business Writing workshop for an insurance company. I requested several examples of customer-facing business writing, to gauge the level of skills within the company. What you are about to read contains examples from these business letters that were presented to me as examples of the fine writing style by a business right here in Northern Ireland. Oh the excruciating joy with which I whipped out my red pen! To my absolute horror, I discovered 34 items including cliches, wordiness and grammar errors in a single letter – more than one per sentence. Ya!
Why are Corporate Speak Phrases Worthy of Execution?
- In addition to Insurance companies, the more traditional Finance and Legal companies in general, along with many government departments, often suffer from wordiness, corporate speak and jargon. Do you want your customers to be confused about what they need to do when it comes to their money, yours or legal matters?
- Wordiness and corporate jargon written in English is really hard for non-English speakers to understand. It’s tough enough to be working or living in an environment where your first language is not spoken or written. Make it easier for those who’re struggling to understand already complex things.
- It’s also often either tricky or downright impossible to translate. So, what will a translator do with such phrases? Might they misunderstand them and translate them incorrectly, or leave them out altogether. That could leave you or your customers at risk of unknown consequences.
- Trust me, you don’t want to receive a Golden Bull Award (for ‘tripe’) from the wonderful Plain English Campaign!
Let’s look at the examples I found one by one.
Dear Shareholders/Investors and Friends
In a corporate context, I am your Shareholder, Investor, Customer or Client. It would be better to mail merge and add my name into the Salutation field. But, never address me as your ‘Friend’, unless I am. In which case, ‘Dawn’ will do.
This is one to leave out completely.
I write to inform you
Listen closely. I am reading something, a letter, an email, a memo. Therefore, I know you are writing.
It takes some creativity. However, you can and will develop something a little more inventive, if you take your time.
Thank you for your letter, dated 12/03/09.
We have received your letter concerning the transfer of all your savings.
This letter concerns your account, which needs upgraded to…
It has come to our attention that…
This appears in letters usually in response to something on your account. So, no. I rang you to tell you. If I had not, you would have ignored my initial phone-call and carried on your merry way.
Don’t lie to me, don’t patronise me. Apologise for your incompetence and tell me how you’ve already started to fix the problem (preferably, starting yesterday) or what I need to do.
We apologise for the inconvenience we have caused. Now that you have made us aware of the problem, we are taking the following steps to fix it.
Printed overleaf is our Terms and Conditions which contains important information about your policy, please read this.
OK. First of all, you are running two sentences into one. Secondly, T&Cs are plural. So, it should be ‘are our’ and ‘contain’. And, finally, who says Printed Overleaf?! Why write in the passive voice? This makes things sound back to front, awkward – like many phrases in a certain daily newspaper that shall remain nameless.
Please read our Terms and Conditions (which are printed) on the back of this letter. They contain important information about your policy.
Let me assure you of our best intentions at all times
This phrase is endemic in financial institutions. If you’d hadn’t said so, I’d have been quaking in my boots, that one of your part-time assassins was just around the corner!
This sentence might just be one great, big, monumental redundancy. (I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect.)
There are none. We assume that your intentions are at their best. We do not even contemplate anything else. Leave it out.
I should be grateful if you would acknowledge receipt of this letter
Why? So that you can continue to ignore my requests in the full and secure confidence that at least I’ve received and read your latest pathetic offering? And, who says stuff like this!? Why would you ever write it down!?
This type of phrase comes from an older version of English that has probably not been commonly used beyond the send of the second world war. Yet, it still appears at the bottom of some letters (often written by those who cannot be bothered to respond to yours).
If anything has made my blood boil dry ’til the saucepan burned, it is this phrase. Beware, utilities providers. Do not incur further brimstone by suggesting that I respond within a certain timeframe if you do not also keep to your agreed timeframe. This is very bad for PR.
Please respond in writing by 20/09/09.
Should you require any further help or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.
OK. You’re bound to be getting the drift of this blog by now.
There are two things that pain me to the point of sackcloth and ashes about this sentence:
- Help and assistance, in this context, are the same thing. Why complicate your communication by adding unnecessary words? Anyone who’s read the fantastically funny book by Thomas Parrish – The Grouchy Grammarian – or attended one of our tough talking Business Writing Skills workshops – will know this is called a ‘redundancy’. In other words, one of these words is surplus to requirements.
- Who says please do not hesitate to contact me? Surgically remove the bracketed phrase from your brain. Why? It’s hackneyed (overused) verbiage.
If you need anything further, please let me know.
Contain us any time on email@example.com
If you think of anything else, please contact Susan on 012 3456 7890.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if we can do anything else to help.
Thanking you in anticipation.
This is a true Northern Ireland one. Inhabitants of other countries, feel free to ignore this. There are two things which make my eyes bleed here. ‘Thanking you’ – What are you thanking me for? Co-operating? No-one else anywhere in the known world says or writes this type of thing!
Secondly, ‘in anticipation’. No. Do not anticipate anything I might do. I might surprise you and cancel my agreement, just because your grammar offends me!
Just leave this phrase out. It is meaningless.
Need Help Sending Corporate Speak Phrases to Their Doom?
If you are one of those people who works for a corporation that uses miserable letter templates that include such inane phrases, show your boss this blog post. I hold you in my heart as you begin to address the thorny issue of “But, it’s always been written like that“.
For some further reading, try our Plain English Campaign – A How-to Guide.
And, if you want help murdering your current business writing in favour of some carefully crafted, professional letter templates that use a direct, modern Plain English writing style, or some Business Writing training to help your staff get straight to the point, get in touch.
Photo by Alexei Scutari on Unsplash
17 thoughts on “Corporate Speak Phrases – A Translation in Plain English”
dawn see these guys – http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/ i think they’d be very happy with your article!
Thanks, Alex. Yep, it’s a fab site. And it always provides lots of examples of how not to do it!
Dawn how about legal business phrases like :
“I refer to same“ and “ the problems with this are, “inter alia“
Absolutely! How could I forget? Your suggestions are most definitely ’legalese’.
[…] hot on the heels of The 10 Worst Business Phrases of All Time and The 8 Worst Written Business Phrases of All Time, we begin a new series on The Apprentice, focusing mainly on the contenders’ communication […]
Why, thank-you. We try to err on the withering put-downs side of the force. 😉
Some of the alternatives sound unprofessional.
A professional company would not say “ If you need any help let me know“.
What sort of help? Clearing the guttering, carrying shopping?
Today’s society is becoming far too casual. A company that sounds casual will NOT be taken seriously by their clients.
Which alternatives sound unprofessional? We haven’t suggested using the example you stated. The help referred to is obvious from the context a letter sent to you by a supplier. Casual? Can you expand on this?
Finally some light. I work in insurance in Dublin and I have been trying for years to convince the company to get rid of this nonsense bombast (unsuccessfully).
We address a multilingual market, so at least when I translate into my native language I kill all that verbal diarrhoea. Besides, it would be culturally counter-productive in my language, because this is perceived as trying to hide something behind over-formality.
This is a great point, Glau. Convoluted language like this is not only confusing, but it also makes people thinking you’re either clueless or concealing something deliberately.
[…] The 8 Worst Written Business Phrases of All Time […]
Thank you for sharing. I prefer cutting-out the mushiness in business communication and getting straight to the point.
Just came across this whole following up on related content on another site. Can you please explain why “please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions“ is bad/inappropriate? Especially when people often do hesitate, feeling they should know or may be pestering. Thanks
Hi Amy, it’s just my opinion, but I think it’s simply redundant verbiage (like a lot of words that appear on corporate documentation). I prefer the more direct, shorter version: ’Contact us for further information’ or ’Contact us with any queries’, depending on the context. I’m happy to debate, though!
Thank you for a great post. Very helpful to me.
Nassos, you are welcome. What are your best (worst?) examples?