H4cked Off: The worst job I ever had

By John Leonard
11 Feb 2013 View Comments
lobster

Please do not push the envelope

Further reading

All industries have their jargon, of course, but IT seems to be particularly ridden with it. The words may have changed a bit since 1998, but the unintelligibility levels remain unaltered. Pitched somewhere between the windy metaphors of business speak (leveraging this, paradigm shift that), and the dry abbreviations of engineering (SOA, 802.11n, LAMP stack), IT jargon is in a class of gobbledygook all of its own.

Since 1998 the demands of SEO (there's one!) have only added to the illegibility of IT communications by forcing the most important keywords (mobility, collaboration, analytics...) into the first few lines of the message, where you might expect a meaningful summary to be.

To an extent I do sympathise with IT marketers. A lot of software is pretty abstract and hard to describe even on its own terms, and sometimes a specialised vocabulary is necessary for the more specialised fields; if you know your audience you don't want to talk down to them. Additionally, elevating something like an office printer to a world of slick tech wizardry is no easy task, even for the most gifted writer. I'm not saying it's easy.

But there's no getting away from the fact that most IT communications are just so derivative, badly organised and po-faced that they fail to get any message across at all, emotional or factual, even if you are prepared to wade through the all the rhetoric in search of a USP (another!).

To give a more recent example, last year I was part of a team shortlisting entries for the UK IT Industry Awards, based on entry forms submitted in advance. I have spent 15 years reading tech literature, my fellow judges considerably longer in many cases, but some of what we had to read was simply beyond us. Sadly, it's possible that some very worthy efforts missed out simply because their marketing departments couldn't tell us what they actually did.

So, tech marketing copywriters, a final plea from the heart. Sub-editing is a poorly paid and often dull job. Don't make the poor subs' lives even bleaker by foisting this stuff on them. Write clearly, avoid unnecessary jargon and if in doubt, leave it out.

I wonder what Peter Cook could have done if he had chosen to diversify into IT marketing instead of drinking himself to death? I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have been writing about powerful lobster extraction solutions, not without tongue firmly lodged in cheek anyway.

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