Claire Meyerhoff

Claire Meyerhoff is back with the last post in her three-part series on writing better. Read part 1 on writing style icons and part 2 on cliches to catch up! Today Claire tackles the horrible jargon we use. ~Kivi

Guest Post by Claire Meyerhoff

We’re people who work in the “nonprofit sector” and we’re swimming in jargon…

Capacity Building!

Leveraging Stakeholders!

Civic Engagement!

Jargon is internal shorthand, so when we’re chatting amongst ourselves we just let a phrase fly and everyone nods.

But jargon just makes everyone else just want nod off…zzzz….

Sometimes jargon is short, like “youth” and sometimes it’s long like, “consensus building.”  Sometimes, jargon isn’t even jargon at all – it’s those blah, blah, blah extra words that just take up space – like a college freshman trying to fill ten pages and impress his teacher.

One teacher you’ll never impress with blah blah blah writing is Bill Torrey, my broadcast journalism professor at American University in the 1980’s.

Bill was kind enough to resurrect the lists he used in class, including one about  jargon and long-winded words and phrase – and what to use instead.  These options might help you save a little time – and make your writing a little more conversational for your audience of real people…

Three examples:

Instead of AHEAD OF SCHEDULE, just say EARLY

Instead of NECESSITATE, just say NEED

Instead of IN THE EVENT OF, just say IF

See the whole list… 

Thanks to Bill Torrey for all his help – thirty years ago and now!  Also, I’d like to give a big shout-out to Bill’s lovely daughter, Rachel Torrey a co-founder of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit HYPE, which helps academically-gifted, low-income students get into some of the best private high schools in the city:

Claire Meyerhoff specializes in development marketing, particularly planned giving. You can see some of her newest work for National Wildlife Federation at She owns The PG Agency based in the Washington, D.C area and you can reach her at

Published On: September 20, 2012|Categories: Writing Skills and Content|