Adam Patterson | May 22nd, 2013

Here at New Narrative Ltd., we know who the enemy is. Each day, we stride boldly into battle, severing dangling clauses, rescuing adjectives gone astray, and aiming our spears steadily at the dark, beating heart of questionable prose — jargon.

Some writers use jargon because they think it makes them sound sophisticated and part of an elite club. In actuality, jargon-filled writing is vague, predictable, and unoriginal.

Perhaps we’re being a tad dramatic. But there’s no denying our sense of mission when it comes to the buzzwords that pepper too many everyday business (and personal) exchanges. At best they’re ignored, at worst they confuse or offend, and there’s always a better choice. So from time to time we’ll be using this blog to drag execrable (yet widely accepted) bits of jargon kicking and screaming in the sunlight. We’ll explain why they’re so objectionable, and suggest — nay, demand — alternatives. We may come across as opinionated, or holier-than-thou. But that’s just because we care — and because when it comes to this stuff, we’re evangelical.

Our word for today: impact. This one frequently pops up in press releases, particularly when a company is discussing an unfortunate (from their perspective) turn of events. For example:

Widgets LLC reassured stakeholders that the strike would not impact its daily operations.

“The trading scandal won’t impact our ability to deliver value to our investors,” the CEO said.

None of the above is flat-out wrong — the use of ‘impact’ as a verb has become so common that it’s generally accepted. However that’s a relatively recent development, and still enough to set some people’s teeth on edge. Impact was born as a noun and is much more natural in that role. Besides, there’s already a perfectly good word for these kinds of occasions – affect.

Widgets LLC reassured stakeholders that the strike would not affect its daily operations.

”The trading scandal won’t affect our ability to deliver value to our investors,” the CEO said.

Some say the rise of the verb ‘impact’ has a lot to do with the widely held fear of confusing affect with ‘effect,’ which sends people scurrying for an entirely different choice. Let’s try to clear that up — ‘affect’ is a verb, and ‘effect’ generally a noun, or the result. Therefore:

Widgets LLC said the strike wouldn’t affect staff morale.

Widgets LLC said the strike had no effect on staff morale.

Better, but the other problem with words like ‘impact’ or ‘effect’ is that they don’t say all that much on their own, and leave a lot open to interpretation. In the above statements, what kind of ‘effect’ was the strike expected to have on staff morale — positive or negative? In other words, is this a good or a bad thing for the company? A lot of readers could be left wondering. In these kinds of cases, a more direct approach can work wonders:

Widgets LLC said staff morale remained high despite the strike.

No room for misunderstanding there. So remember, jargon is unlikely to have the desired ‘effect’ on your readers, or ‘affect’ their views of you or your organisation for the better.

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