Guest Blog: Tom Groenfeldt On Eliminating PR Bankspeak

PR Writing Should Adopt The 2.6% ‘And’ Quota

The Financial Times recently carried a report on the resistance a staff economist at the World Bank faced when he insisted that the word “and” make up no more than 2.6 percent of the words in his group’s research reports.

The paper described his rule as an attack on the bank’s turgid writing. Staff apparently rose in defense of turgidity and Romer has lost his managerial responsibilities, the paper reported.

“In an email sent to staff this week, Mr Romer vowed to block publication of the latest World Development Report if it contained an “and” surplus, which he determined as being anything above 2.6 per cent of the text.” That prompted a reader to note that only an economist would set a writing rule based on percentages.

Romer said the growing use of the word “and” — up to almost 7 percent, was the result of bank staff trying to squeeze their own pet projects into the report.

Something similar happens in many press releases where companies cannot bear to leave out any feature in an announcement of a new software release, for example. A new software release might be said to improve usability and agility and more seamlessly integrates and provides greater auditability. (Rarely does a software release omit the word “seamless” in describing any application.)

The Stanford Literary Lab calls it Bankspeak and shows how the World Bank reports have changed from 1946 to 2012, shifting from descriptions of concrete conditions and actions – roads, telephone exchanges or farming assistance – to hazier concepts of finance, managerial jargon and self-referential commentary. In banking and FinTech, declarations of passion or the standard M&A terminology – “We are happy to…” and the standard response “We are delighted…” – don’t provide useful information and usually ring hollow.

So what’s the problem? The core message, assuming the company has one and isn’t simply sending out a release because two weeks has passed since the last one, gets lost in the swarm of unnecessary words. The solution? Focus on the important news, make choices, and if you do have to include all those attributes, at least break the description into two or three short sentences rather than cram them into a sentence that runs for five lines. With digital releases, the core communication can be succinct while providing links to further detail or supporting information.

Use word count to check some of your own reports and releases. Does the word “and” make up more than 2.6 percent of your content?

About Tom Groenfeldt

Tom Groenfeldt is a highly respected freelance writer based in the U.S. He writes about finance and technology for publications including Forbes.com, International Finance Magazine and his own blog, techandfinance.com. In 2015 The Financial Brand named Tom one of the top 25 global influencers in financial services. And he was named by Jay Palter as one of the 250 Fintech influencers you should be following in 2016, and by CDW FinTalk as a top blog.