Have you used any of these words in your writing?

  • Low-hanging fruit
  • Learnings
  • Efforting

They are buzzwords, popular industry words that people use to impress others.

The biggest problem with buzzwords is their popularity. They become so overused, they lose their meaning...if they ever had any. Sure, low-hanging fruit creates a picture in the reader's mind of something easy to reach. But it's used so frequently that it's become cliché. Your reader doesn't pause to consider it.

Some buzzwords are nonwords, like learnings. You don't walk away from a workshop with learnings; you walk away with lessons or knowledge or teachings. Ann Handley wonders where this trend stops. Will we have knowledges? Informations?

Other buzzwords are so empty, one wonders what they're supposed to mean. Efforting, for example. In 2007, The Lowell Sun stated that it "is also efforting to get a transcript or clip of the segment." Perhaps the Sun is trying to get a transcript or clip, but the use of efforting gives me a feeling that they're not trying very hard.

"But," you say, "everyone in my industry uses that term. If I don't use it, I look like I don't know what I'm talking about." True, eliminating all buzzwords all the time might make you look like an outsider in some types of writing. When I edit, I sometimes have to turn a blind eye to words like impacting and incentivize because my client needs to sound part of the gang. It's a sad fact of business.

In those situations, limit the number of buzz terms you use, making the rest of your writing clear and concise. Put real thoughts, real knowledge, into your copy. Your readers will respond by putting more faith in your (mostly) buzzword-free writing than in the incentivized, Web 2.0-driven, learnings from the snake-oil salesman down the street.

Buzzword Alternatives

  • Low-hanging fruit: easy first step
  • Learnings: teachings; lessons; knowledge; information
  • Efforting: trying; making an effort
  • Web 2.0: Web 2.0 actually describes technology that allows us to do things. Just talk about those things.
  • Lean startup: startup (aren't all startups lean these days?)
  • Bandwidth: We are not pipes that carry data from one location to the next. Instead of "I don't have the bandwidth for that," try "I don't have the time for that," "I'm too busy right now," or how about the direct, "No, I can't do that." Just don't say you have too much on your plate.
  • Disconnect: As in, "The partners were experiencing a disconnect." Try, "The partners couldn't agree."
  • Face time: As in, "I need face time with the client." Instead: "I need to spend some time in person with the client." Or, "I need to meet with the client face-to-face." As long as you don't say you're meeting in meat space.
  • Utilize: use
  • Paradigm shift: fundamental change. Avoid sea change.
  • Incentivize: offer an incentive
  • Impactful: make an impact

Are there buzzwords that drive you crazy? Have some elegant solutions for common buzzwords? Share them in the comments section below!