Writing for a global audience: 4 common phrases to avoid

26 February 2021

With almost 400 million people speaking English as their first language, and a billion more knowing it as a secondary language, English has emerged in the past few decades as the international language. It is spoken by diplomats, scientists, artists, business people and many others (The Guardian, 2018).

More and more multinational companies over the past decade have mandated English as their common corporate language. Many of these team members will have a high level of competence in written and spoken English. For example, Japan’s online marketplace, Mikitani, created a diverse and powerful organisation after mandating employees would need to demonstrate competence in English within 2 years or risk demotion or even dismissal (Harvard Business Review, 2015).

Yet, as writers of English, we have a responsibility not to overcomplicate our communications or confuse our message by using ambiguous words or phrases. Buzz words and clichés are overused words or phrases that become annoying to the reader. These can be especially problematic as the meaning of such phrases may be completely unrelated to the literal meaning. Consider these examples.

Buzz phrase

Meaning

Alternative wording

silver bullet

A simple and seemingly magical solution to a complicated problem. 

There is no simple solution to solving all the issues.

cookie cutter approach

The same approach or style is always used and not enough attention is paid to individual differences.

The company uses a generic design for all its products. 

perfect storm

A perfect storm is an unusual combination of events or things that produce an unusually bad or powerful result.

The slowing economic growth, rising prices and an unstable housing market led to a poor result for investors.

think outside the box

To think about something in a way that is new or different and shows imagination, especially in business.

The team leader challenged her staff to find an innovative solution.

Good writing for any audience is not just about avoiding buzz phrases, it's also about ensuring a logical structure, using an appropriate tone for the audience and making sure sentences are on average between 15 and 20 words. Our goal in writing must always be to make our writing easy to understand on first reading. Especially when writing for a global audience it is not enough to consider whether your reader will understand your communication. We must also continually ask the question ‘Could my choice of words be misunderstood?’  

For clear, concise and professional communications, contact Concise Writing Consultancy today on 02 9238 6638 or email patricia.hoyle@concisewriting.com.au

Sources:

https://hbr.org/2012/05/global-business-speaks-english

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jul/27/english-language-global-dominance

https://www.collinsdictionary.com

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