IT vendors worst for jargon, Deloitte says

IT companies are the worst offenders when it comes to communicating their corporate message, recording the lowest readability scores and using the most jargon, according to survey results released Tuesday by Deloitte Touche Tomatsu.

And jargon affects performance -- straight-talking companies outperform those that communicate in a vague, unclear way, according to a Deloitte analysis of 30 companies from the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

These findings mirror results from two academic research projects, by Malcolm Smith of the University of South Australia and Richard Taffler of England's Cranfield University. These two independent studies concluded that clarity of communication can be an accurate indicator of corporate performance, Deloitte said in its report.

"If corporate America wants to restore public trust, we need to start speaking and writing more clearly. Less empty rhetoric about openness, honesty and accountability, and more straight talk," Deloitte partner Brian Fugere wrote in the report "We've had it with repurposeable, value-added knowledge capital and robust, leveragable mindshare."

To help companies evaluate how clear their communications are, Deloitte has developed a program known as Bullfighter, an add-on for Microsoft Word and PowerPoint which flags overly complex language and the use of jargon, and assigns the document a Bull Composite score.

BullFighter runs much like a spelling or grammar checker in Microsoft Office 2000 or XP and includes a 350-word dictionary of common jargon which users can add to themselves.

According to Deloitte, increasing vagueness and use of jargon in corporate documents may provide an early warning sign of troubles. It said that a review of Enron's communications during the last three years indicated that as its performance began to slide, its communications became increasingly laden with ambiguous words and sentences.

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David Legard

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