Real people don’t say utilise; useless information delivered in an unnecessarily convoluted way
I used to write copy for famous travel company and as a new starter had to attend an induction session. Aside from the essentials, like where’s the emergency exit and how long I get for lunch, during the session I was given several surprising pearls of wisdom. It was explained to me, in great detail, how to utilise a plaster, how to utilise a kettle and how to utilise a door.
Aside from the fact that before joining the company I’d managed to execute all of these tasks for myself without too many problems, it was the choice of language that really threw me. Not use a kettle, utilise a kettle. A much more businesslike and serious form of kettle use. This woman really knows her stuff when it comes to kettles, plasters and doors, I thought. Shortly before utilising the latter and running through it screaming.
As a copywriter you spend most of your energy getting rid of copy; cutting, condensing and clarifying. You look for the simplest way of communicating, quickly. While words like utilise have their place, when you’ve got a perfectly good three-letter alternative why on earth wouldn’t you use it? Unless, that is, you want your brand to appear elitist, overly-technical and a bit up tight.
Take a look at these examples. Admittedly, they have been doctored to help illustrate my point, but the original copy wasn’t a million miles away from what you can see here:
Through a continuous programme of redevelopment, meetings and seminars targeted at looking at ways in which we can ensure improvement year on year, the board has taken steps to make targeted changes that we plan to implement to ensure that we not only support the company in moving forwards, but also that we use our continuous commitment to improvement to continuously improve year on year.
After a difficult year, we’ve agreed on a course of action that will help increase sales and ensure improvement.
Digital readers are no different to print readers. They want to access information without wading through detail and dense language. So next time you’re asked to write, update or supply copy, take it easy. You can’t say everything that every potential customer could ever want to know. Talk like a person talking to other people, instead of a corporate-borg programmed to impart impenetrable information. The world, and our website, will be a much happier place.