Just say what you mean

Why faff around with pompous-sounding words that don’t help the reader and probably aren’t even used correctly? The use of ‘seeking’ has popped (maybe ‘pooped’ would be more appropriate!) up again today and it seems to be a bit of a trend in business writing.

On this occasion, it’s the Guardian’s new Sustainable Business section (a fantastic idea). It describes itself like this:

Guardian Sustainable Business is a new source of news, data and intelligence for professionals seeking to make their organisation sustainable. Powering the service is the Guardian’s leading team of editors and business analysts seeking to give you the best platform to make your business sustainable.

(Have just noticed they’ve even used it twice within this short description. Gah.)

Technically, it can be used in this way; my dictionary defines ‘to seek’ as ‘5. to make an effort (to do something); to try or aim (to do it)’. So why not just say ‘trying’ or ‘aiming’? Keep it simple; don’t fall into the trap of trying to be too sophisticated.

And the use of ‘seeking’ in the second sentence doesn’t seem positive enough to me. They’re only ‘trying’ to provide the best platform. How about a bit of confidence, guys? You will give the best platform.

May I humbly suggest:

Guardian Sustainable Business is a new source of news, data and intelligence for professionals working to make their organisation sustainable. The Guardian’s leading team of editors and business analysts power the service, giving you the best platform possible to make your business sustainable.

What do you think? Should we all be seeking to use ‘seeking’ in our writing? Or do you think it’s a bit too weak sounding?

4 thoughts on “Just say what you mean

  1. Helen, you’ve hit squarely upon an issue that bugs me too! ‘Seeking’ is definitely a problem word within corporations who are seeking (oops!) to craft compelling business copy. I agree it is a very weak word.

    Two other words drive me over the edge: “providing” and “offering”. Oh, and one more: “designed to”. Egads! What a waste of space. So many words in the English language, yet these are used ad nauseum.

    Here’s the solution I propose: Hire a professional copywriter! You wouldn’t call a fireman to clean your carpets, or an accountant to fix your plumbing. Why attempt to write your own copy? Leave it to the professionals for a dynamic end result that might actually help you achieve higher sales.

    Another excellent resource is Peter Bowler’s “The Superior Person’s Field Guide to Deceitful, Deceptive and Downright Dangerous Language”…a tongue-in-cheek expose of corporate-speak, and advice on how to stop the madness. If companies insist on writing their own copy, at least they can do a bit of research to improve their skills.

    Helen, loved your rewrite! Here’s another one:

    Guardian Sustainable Business is a dynamic source of news, data and intelligence for professionals working to achieve sustainable organisations. Guardian’s team of vibrant editors and business analysts power the service, to help you attain a sustainable business platform unlike any other.

    We’re not picking on you, Guardian! We just want to help you be wildly successful.

  2. Hi Helen!

    Nice post. My pet hatred in copy is the lazy use of exclamation marks to make a statement seem more interesting, like in the title of this vacancy on Infojobs:

    “Recepcionista-Assistant con alto nivel de Inglés ! ”

    What’s so damned fantastic about that statement!

  3. Thanks very much for your comments!

    Victoria – I agree, companies should consider hiring a professional to do their web copy if they do not have the correct resources in house. And even if they do, hiring someone with distance from the company and maybe even its politics often helps to provide objective copy. You know: seeing, wood, trees and all that. Such a shame when they spend so much on a design and then scrimp on the words; a case of choosing form over function.

    Peter – yes, exclamation marks should be saved for emphasis only (a bit like swear words?). You’re absolutely right about the enthusiastic use of them in recruitment ads (in every country). On that note, badly written job vacancies drive me up the wall too…

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