Updated: Jan 1, 2020
Verbosity, loquacity, periphrasis: ironically obscure words for the simple concept of using complicated or long-winded language.
This writing (or speaking) style carries the risk of being perceived as a ploy to convince your audience of your superior knowledge, but not in a credible or helpful way.
People identify this tactic. They make fun of it.
If I were writing for a politically-inclined audience, rather than a commercial one, I might talk about the origins of this, often labelled as rhetoric. There's a whole history here, probably most famously-penned by George Orwell in his famous reprimand against this behaviour, in Politics and the English Language.
Today, I want to talk about the simple steps you can take to avoid the common trap of over-writing.
1. DON'T USE AN OBSCURE WORD WHEN A SIMPLE ONE WILL DO. Sometimes the use of a complicated or less widely-understood word is appropriate, especially in technical writing or for a specialist audience. More often than not, it just carries the risk of not delivering your point and then distancing your audience.
2. TRY TO AVOID CLICHES, IDIOMS AND FIGURES OF SPEECH IF YOU WANT TO REACH A BROADER AUDIENCE. I'll use an anecdote to illustrate this. A friend, whose immigrant family were native English speakers but lacked familiarity with Australian idioms, was asked on an invitation to "bring a plate" to a party. Many of us may understand the intended meaning: bring a plate of food. My friend's mother did not. Much to the host's and her own embarrassment, she just brought an empty plate.
The same risk of misunderstanding applies in business writing. Be very careful how you handle slang and idiomatic language, unless you're confident that most of your audience will appreciate rather than mistake your phrase.
3. AVOID JARGON OR BUZZWORDS UNLESS APPROPRIATE TO YOUR AUDIENCE: Related to the above, jargon or "buzzwords" also confuse and distance. But they're somewhat less forgiven: they're commonly lampooned because they are often regarded as the writer's contrived attempt to sound learned, beyond the knowledge of the reader. In some instances, their use may be appropriate, such as where particular terms are commonly used in specialist fields. If you're really intent on using a word that may not be comprehended, consider including a definition in parentheses, for example:
"I think we should target a hyperlocal audience (i.e. only businesses in the local vicinity) to test this new platform."
4. AVOID NEEDLESS REPETITION (TAUTOLOGY): Avoiding redundant words tightens your language and increases the chance of engaging your reader. Tautology most commonly manifests in adjectives (descriptive words), as in the example below:
"I think our marketing budget should be sufficient enough for the next quarter."
"Sufficient" and "enough" mean the same thing. There is no need to use both. We fall into this trap subconsciously because it feels like the extra word adds greater emphasis to our point, when in reality, a simply-expressed statement carries more punch.
5. AVOID WAFFLE. Unless we're talking a Belgian dessert covered in melted chocolate, a waffle isn't fun to swallow. While reviewing your writing, ask yourself, does this paragraph or sentence add anything? Then ask again. Waffling is an all-too-easy habit to fall into because, as writers, we're so attached to our subject matter that we tend to over-stress what we feel is most pertinent. Content that doesn't add to the message or reveal something new has to go. The exception to this rule is in summing up, when it's the right time to remind your business audience of your more salient points.