What is the point of obfuscation? Why not just communicate clearly in straightforward words?
“The vertically deployed anti-personnel device has an explosive force upon surface impact that is sufficient to exceed the accepted over pressure threshold of physiological damage for exposed personnel.”
Did you immediately understand this? You would have understood it quicker if the US Air Force Colonel had written: ‘The bomb is powerful enough to kill people.’
And why did a hospital say that a patient had ‘failed to fulfil his wellness potential’?
If saying he had ‘died’ was too blunt, then ‘passed away’ would have been softer, dignified and perfectly sufficient to convey the message.
These are extreme examples of obfuscation, well described by Wikipedia as: ‘making communication confusing and harder to interpret’.
In PR we are in the business of communicating about and managing the reputation of organisations, so many of us perhaps pay greater attention to the way a message is communicated. Even so, for everyone, in business and in our personal lives, the essential objective of all communication is that the audience understands fully, without any difficulty, exactly what we want them to understand from a message.
So why do so many people reduce the effectiveness of their communications by creating problems for their audience. By
– using long-winded phrases, even not as excessively as the Air Force Colonel – using unexplained corporate jargon, unexplained acronyms, or ‘business speak’ that are used in the ‘real’ world – ‘ open the kimono’ is a new one I discovered recently! Readers should not have to search online dictionaries
– using the passive tense frequently – eg ‘This is to be done by Chris’ – ‘Chris will do this’ is far better
– unnecessary use of abstract nouns eg ‘He abolished slavery’ rather than ‘ he was responsible for the abolition of slavery’
Having to write or edit to tight word counts for social media content such as Twitter or for press specifications encourages tight clear writing. It is also interesting that it is not easy to find examples of these ‘faults’ in the news pages of the national press.
Yes, there are times when direct phrases such as ‘he died’ are too simplistic and lack style. But generally this is a world where attention-spans and time available to read are in decline –that means the easier and shorter the better.
So if a reader does not understand instantly or thinks: ‘why is the writer using such complex, strange, even pretentious words’ it is the writer’s fault and the writer has, in some part ‘not exactly hit the epicentre of the objective.’ – in other words – failed!
It‘s not just in consumer PR or business PR, or in social media. Whether you are communicating with your potential clients, shareholders or even your partner, why not say what you mean! – Keep It Simple and Straightforward.