[Originally Broadcast on
Public Radio]

Corporate America's WritingProblem© DrWrite.Com 2005

A while back, the New York Times ran a front page story with this headline

This is good news for Dr. Write. We benefit from some of that 3.1 billion by teaching writing to the authors of their illiterate e-mails, but it's bad news for those who lose their jobs or, at the very least, never get promoted because no one can figure out what they're trying to say.

And we're not talking about high school dropouts. These are folks with college degrees working in white collar jobs. They can press the keys on the keyboard, but they can't communicate. Let me give you an example. Here's a statement taken from a proposal submitted by one large corporation to another in an effort to get them as a client:

Want to read that again? I'm sure you would rather not. It's deadly. And the ironic thing abut it is that it's grammatically correct. The period is in the right place, there are commas where there should be, and there aren't any run-on sentences, dangling participles, or sentence fragments. (Remember those? You first heard about them in fifth grade and every year after that and you still donít recognize them.)

So what's the problem?

It's summed up in a phrase Dr. Leo Rockas, Dr. Write's favorite college English teacher used to write all over our papers: Pompous Jargon. The business world is riddled with it. Normal people who speak and write just fine when they're at home turn into blithering idiots when they get to work.

Can you imagine what Homer might say when Gladys asks:

That guy should run for office.

You get the point: Pompous Jargon.

But wait! (you might exclaim.) You don't understand! We have our own language here at Worldwide Widgets. It's very special and very unique and only a select few can understand it.

Well, I guess we all want to feel special. But if your goal is to communicate, to get your ideas across and be understood, then specialness be damned.

Dr. Write was working with a corporate salesperson recently and asked him to read aloud a paragraph from a sales letter he had written. When he finished, we asked him to sum up what he was trying to tell the client. He thought for a moment, then said: "We can do it faster and cheaper."

There was a momentary pause, then we both laughed. He deleted the paragraph and typed 'We're faster and cheaper.'

If only everything we wrote was as straightforward as that.