Being a freelance copywriter means I spend a lot of time unravelling corporate dogma, translating passive and nonsensical gibberish like “we leveraged strategic relationships with key stakeholders” into clearer and simpler sentences like “we met important people”.

While my despair at why humans have a poisonous addiction to obscuring things with needless complexity is a personal matter for long dark evenings alone screaming, I’ve never been bold (or blunt) enough to ask corporate clients why they write complete and utter bollocks in the first place.

Pig walking on grass

Photo by Dan Hamster

Then one day I did. In fact I’ve asked a few “key stakeholders” of my own why the cycle of writing unreadable drivel perpetuates. I also tried to get to the bottom of an even more perplexing issue: why people write copy which they freely admit (and even joke about) no one will ever read (think business plans, board reports and strategy documents).

The answer is simpler than I thought: it’s because everyone else does it. Worse still, that’s what people even expect in corporate circles.

That says to me let’s do things the way we’ve always done them because we want the same outcomes we’ve always had i.e boring copy and the responding deathly silence that follows.

Jargon is totemic

It’s an emblem some businesspeople use to give the impression of power and control, like a communication currency. People write with convoluted language because it sounds like they know what they’re talking about. Plus it’s an easy way to hide accountability because who’s responsible for what gets buried beneath layers of excruciatingly dull obfuscation.

So the goal of jargon-saturated, passive, haughty copy which corporate culture is so fond of is to project power and control.

Yet isn’t the goal of that same copy to persuade readers of your competency? That aptitude you or your company have for doing a job better than anyone else; which is surely the distillation of why people want to project power and control.

And herein lies the secret to writing engaging copy which gets read but above all else understood, rather than failing to articulate anything with real meaning (if it even gets read at all).

Write for your readers

Talk about what resonates with them honestly and show empathy for their problems and worldview, especially in how well you solve those problems in terms they identify with. Failing that, write about what you know in a style that’s active and deliberately avoids complicated terms, especially when a simpler alternative does the job just as well and often better.

Oh, and one more thing: always plan your copy before you write it.