Avoid use of jargon. “IBMers have developed a lingo all their own, but jargon confuses people”

IBM recently published a short article on the internal home page , “Grammar 101: Part V — Avoid clutter and get to the point.” It begins as follows, “The Grammar Guru is back. In this installment, Grammar Guru and VP Jeff Cross [VP name blocked] addresses clear and concise writing. [1]

The article continues:

“Clutter is the disease of American writing,” says William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well. “We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”

“Amen to that,” say I.

I bought a copy of “On Writing Well” shortly after starting this blog a year ago, though it is evident in the almost 400 posts I have published to date that I haven’t spent enough time reading it. (I just located my copy and have placed it on the table on my back porch that is now my office, hoping that I’ll take some time going forward to dig into it.)

I also have a copy of Zinsser’s book, “Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past.” I have read part of it, and strongly recommend it. (I’ll locate my copy and put it next to “On Writing Well,” as a further reminder to read and follow Zinsser’s wise counsel.)

William Zinsser is an outstanding writer, teaching by example good writing in his writing about how to write. He taught at Yale for many years. My daughter Jen graduated from Yale and is an excellent writer, as is evident by the journal she kept about her post-graduate studies in Spain in the summer of 2006. [2]

Dave Grove, an IBM colleague when I was at IBM Research, is a graduate of Yale. He is now a well-recognized researcher with many published papers, and recently received a major award for his work on improving Java garbage collection. He didn’t major in computer science as an undergraduate. Soon after Jen was accepted to Yale I asked him what Yale education meant to him. He said, “It taught me how to write.”

That’s all you can ask of any undergraduate education, for you can’t write if you can’t read, nor can you write if you can’t think. It’s the writing that makes you better at both.

Jeff then shares some tips, including:

Avoid use of jargon. “IBMers have developed a lingo all their own, but jargon confuses people,” Jeff says. “Clarity is essential because 45 percent of IBMers have been with our company less than five years, and one in nine, or 11 percent, were brought in through acquisitions.”

Spell out acronyms the first time you use them. For example, ISS means Internet Security Systems.

Reading these tips suggested to me –in my usual unmodest manner — that perhaps our VP Guru has read some of my posts on IBM jargon, TLA’s, and writing for the web. If not, here are the links to some of them: [3]

I couldn’t find the Jeff’s name in the list of IBM Bloggers, so I will send him an email with a link to this post and the suggestion that he start an external blog if has not yet done so, following Zinnser’s example by teaching effective writing by writing effectively. [Postscript: The email and Jeff’s prompt reply can be found in the comments about this post.]


1. Since early in the Jikes days I have not named an IBMer publicly unless I have first received their permission to do so, or am confident that they would have no objection to my naming them.

Postscript: Jeff Cross identified himself in a comment to this post, so I have gone back and put in his name, striking out my earlier phrases the didn’t use his name.

2. I think the journal can be found on the web and will try to track down the URL.

3. Jeff didn’t say he was aware of my blog before today, but I’ve left in the list so others can easily locate my jargon-related posts.


  1. Posted October 2, 2007 at 13:38 | Permalink | Reply

    Here is the letter I just sent to IBM’s VP and Guru of Grammar:

    Guru VP,

    You may be interested in reading MLBPOIJ (My Latest Blog Post On IBM Jargon):


    It was prompted by reading your recent — and excellent — article on w3.

    Keep up the good work.


  2. Jeff Cross
    Posted October 2, 2007 at 14:13 | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for the feedback on the series about grammar. The reaction from fellow employees has been extremely positive. We only have one opportunity to make a first impression, and clear, concise writing can make a difference in business communications.

  3. Posted October 2, 2007 at 14:20 | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for posting the comment, VP and Guru Jeff. I’ll update my post to include your name.

    Do you have a blog? If not, the world awaits.

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