Turn TechTalk into PlainSpeak: A plain language approach

Do your customers need a technical dictionary and a plain English translator to understand what you can do for them? Are your sales presentations, marketing literature, press releases, and Web site littered with unexplained jargon, acronyms, and proprietary trade / brand names? These are dirty words

and you could be losing sales because of them. (Not to mention wasting your marketing dollars.)

If your materials were a “test” of your prospect’s technical knowledge and understanding of your products and services, would they flunk? Your purpose is not to impress, but to inform or persuade, and ultimately to form relationships. But if you’re speaking a foreign language, you’re creating sales barriers.


  • First and foremost, know your audience. If they’re technical, use technical language. If they’re not, use plain English.
  • Use the full version of an acronym the first time you use it. Example: NIC (Network Interface Card); SAN (Storage Area Network); WiFi (Wireless Fidelity); SFA (Sales Force Automation).
  • Define technical terms. Use everyday words and familiar language to explain what it is, what it does, and how it does it. Example: Redundant architecture: A (network or hardware) design that duplicates functionality.
  • Provide relevant audience-focused benefits. Example (for business audience): This hot swappable hard drive system allows your technical staff to replace a defective computer part with a new one, on the fly. Because the computer and network are never shut down, your employees always have access to their data and business applications. How much do you estimate it would cost your company if your computer systems and data were not available for 2 to 3 hours?
  • Avoid jargon, overused / meaningless terms: Example 1: Enterprise software: Software that is suitable for large corporations. Example 2: Mission-critical: Your company’s most important information, applications, systems, data, or procedures.
  • Use a simple non-technical analogy. Note that plain language does not dumb down. It simply explains information in terms that are relevant or understandable to the audience. Example: An ISP tells you that they have a redundant Internet “backbone”. What do they mean?

    Simple non-technical analogy: Imagine a grid of parallel North/South and East/West highways. Now imaging that you’re eastbound when a traffic accident slows or blocks traffic. You take the first northbound route to get to an alternative eastbound highway. If required, you repeat this procedure until you finally get to your destination. This is how a redundant Internet backbone works. It provides several alternative routes (i.e., Internet connections and access points) for getting your data and messages to their final destination.
  • Don’t make assumptions about how people interpret the vocabulary you use! What may be “plain” to one audience may not be plain (or clear) to another. Example: To a CEO, a “back-up” plan is a contingency plan. To a human resources professional, a “back-up” is a person who performs someone else’s duties during their absence. To an IT professional, it means making a duplicate copy of the company’s data, directories, and other elements, and storing them on a second set of media.


If your audience can accurately explain to others what you’ve said, then “Congratulations!” They’ve passed your “test.” Your message got through loud and CLEAR!


Q: What’s the plain English definition of an ASP Protocol Gateway?

A: A person who translates one language (TechTalk) into another (PlainSpeak) on an outsourced basis, bridging the communications gap between technical and business experts.

Danna Yuhas is a plain language specialist, and president of Market Impact. The company translates technical information into plain English, including brochures, sales presentations, training materials, web content, direct response advertising, intranet materials, and other documents. For more information, visit www.market-impact.com, call 416 410-5608, or send email to [email protected]

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