Copywriting tips: what Hippocrates can teach you about the pitfalls of jargon

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Hippocrates, amongst other things, was a physician. A man credited as being the father of modern medicine and one of the first people to put forward the theory that illnesses and disease had natural causes, rather than being punishment meted out by the gods. I suspect he would also have made an extremely good copywriter, because he once said this:

“The chief virtue that language can have is clearness, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar words.”

Wise words and ones that are just as applicable today as they obviously were over two thousand years ago.

Nothing harms a piece of writing more, particularly when its intention is to sell something, than jargon and overcomplicated language. If you complicate your message and stuff it full of words people don’t know, then you make it difficult to read and difficult to understand. That is a dangerous game as the people reading it, your potential customers, don’t have to read it. If it doesn’t make sense they will quickly look for something more interesting to do.

Here is an, admittedly extreme, example of jargon and technicality ruining a sales message. It comes from an email I received a few weeks ago:

‘Our solution progression team can ensure a comprehensive transformation of your customer onboarding process to maximise your retention strategy.’

This came from a very big company, who undoubtedly paid a lot to have this written. Whichever overpaid marketing consultancy came up with that utter bilge should be sacked, on the spot. Why say something that is practically incomprehensible when you could have said something like this:

‘When you acquire a new customer, you want to keep them. It’s our job to build trust with your latest clients and ensure they stay with you for years to come.’

Because (I found out later) that’s what customer onboarding means – helping new customers to become established customers. So why not say that? In fact, I strongly suspect that nobody knows what customer onboarding means except customer onboarding companies, who have been advised to call it customer onboarding by someone who knows absolutely nothing about it. As you can probably tell, this sort of thing drives me crazy.

Please, please, please – if you are trying to sell a product or service, make the language you use as simple as possible. If you don’t, you will be throwing money down the drain. I’m going to end this blog as I started – with a quote from a great man who was not a copywriter, but I suspect would have made a damn good one.

“Use simple words everyone knows then everyone will understand” – Winston Churchill

Author: Martin Sayers

Martin Sayers is a UK copywriter and owner of copywriting agency MSCopy. You can get free marketing advice from Martin direct to your inbox by signing up to the MSCopy monthly marketing tips.