When “Best Practice” is Not Best Practice

This post was written by John White on Thu, 21 May 2009 17:12:30 +0000
Posted Under: fluff,process of writing,text to use or avoid,writer's diseases

Further to this month’s post on a good turn of phrase, I thought about my son’s eighth-grade teacher, who decries the use of “dead words” and deducts points for them on his essays. I applauded that, though I’d never heard the term “dead words” before. I asked my son for more information.

“Basically,” he said, “Mrs. Correia doesn’t want us to use words like ‘very’ or ‘like’ or ‘many’ or ‘lots of’… words that don’t really add any value. She also doesn’t want us to, like, begin sentences with ‘basically.'”

Like basically, I agree, so I’m getting dead words out of our copy – cold turkey.

There are probably 2700 blogs with lists of words to avoid in business writing, so plenty of us have thought about this already. Dead words can turn decent copy into fluff. If you want to make a science of it, collect the boilerplate paragraph from the press releases of middle-tier technology companies and lump them all onto a single Web site: museumofnonsense.com.

Herewith a few:

  • Best practices – Why would we mention the worst practices? I hate this expression, and I was encouraged when an engineer agreed with me in a meeting last week.
  • Solution – The most overused word in technology writing. I’m galled that it occurs 12 times in a 10-page paper we published just a few months ago, but I plan to refrain from using it from now on.
  • High-tech – There is no high technology anymore. It ended about 2001 when everybody got a computer.
  • Leading provider – You wouldn’t want to work with a trailing one, would you? Throw it away.
  • Today’s – I’ve decided I’m not going to read any piece that begins with this word, as in “Today, content professionals are tugged in multiple directions…” or “In today’s socially networked world…”
  • Embraced – There’s too little embracing going on in the world right now, so let’s use “adopted” or “accepted” and be more accurate.

Runners-up:

  • Resources – I don’t like this word, but it’s pretty hard to work around it. Usually, though, what we mean is “money,” so perhaps I should be more frank in the future.
  • Support – Long in the tooth, but another tough one to get around. If there were a better way to say “Windows XP supports remote desktop management,” I’d use it.
  • Business-critical/mission-critical – In other words, “Pay attention to the next noun – it’s important!” I think I can get away without these; if not, I’ll post and let you know.

So, I’m notifying my writers that I’ll assume they have a writer’s disease and deduct points if they use these dead words in copy they send me.

Also, I don’t understand why people pronounce it “processeeze.” Does that make it high-tech?

Basically, that’s another post.

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