Your thoughts are more important than your words.

Words are not important in and of themselves. The ideas and concepts they convey are important.

Several years ago I had a very difficult client who had a hard time understanding that.  We would put together a press release that described the benefits of a technology breakthrough in plain terms. The goal was to establish why this breakthrough was important. The CEO read it over once and said, “It needs more adjectives.”

Three hours later we had sprinkled in enough adjectives to meet the CEOs requirements and the release was virtually unreadable. 

This is a basic problem with all marketing material: An attachment to unsubstantiated superlatives bury the real content.

A couple of decades before that, as a technical editor for Lockheed, I ran across the following phrase. “The RB impacts on the geoid, rather than the ellipsoid sphere.” I had a vague understanding of what that all meant, but I also knew that impact was a noun, not a verb. So I went to the engineer who authored the paper and asked, “Does this mean the warhead explodes on the earth rather than in the air?”

He said after a bit of thought, “Yes.”

“Can we just say that?”

He thought a bit more and said, “No.”

This is the problem with all technical material: An attachment to academic terms obscures the real content.

It is no better in the Internet age.

We are all taught how to do research papers in college in specific formats because it makes it easier for the professors to grade objectively.  That does not mean that the structure is the best form of communication. We are taught in our jobs to stick to “the message” established by a committee of people who are engulfed in the products, but that does not mean people “unengulfed” know what the hell we are talking about.

Words are not important in and of themselves.  The ideas and concepts they convey are important.  Too often, however, we become so enamored with “our” words and how we structure them that it obscures the goal of conveying our thoughts and concepts. Don’t fall in love with words that make you comfortable.  Be sure that what you are trying to say is understood, even if it is not the way you want to say it. That is the path to success.