Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Leverage this, mofo

So A asks:

What do you think of the words "leveraged" and "impactful" in this sentence? (not mine, btw)

If and when leveraged correctly, administrative technology can be very important to the educational process by allowing administrators to perform their duties in a much more concise and impactful manner.


and I know before I even read the sentence that I will not like the words in question. As it was, I didn't like hardly any of the words!

If I were teaching someone how to write, almost the first "rule" I would insist they internalised would be: write simply. That means, use words you understand; say what you mean; write as few words as express your meaning correctly and no more.

So. "If and when..." nearly always means the same as "When..." would. "When I go there" implies "if I go there", because if I don't, there is no "when".

"Leveraged" is a horrible word. Here's a tip for you. If you do not write about finance or physics, you do not have any reason to use "leverage", and you never have reason, even in those fields, to use it as a verb. Here it simply means "use". At best, it could mean "use the resources you already have to acquire further resources". It is not comfortable as a synonym for "expand" though, because even jargonistas would struggle with "they leveraged their business into Mexico".

For this latter reason, we have one more reason to consider the American Heritage dictionary pernicious and to think that its being the top definition you see when you look the word up on Google is a bad thing.

It says:


To improve or enhance: “It makes more sense to be able to leverage what we [public radio stations] do in a more effective way to our listeners” (Delano Lewis).

But this is not how even bad writers use the word, and the example is awful. It doesn't say what the definition claims. Lewis is clearly saying that it makes more sense to be able to expand what they do (well, not clearly, obv., but it seems to me that that's what he's saying). He wants to build on what he's already doing. The other definitions are fine.

"administrative technology can be very important to the educational process by allowing administrators to perform their duties"

Here, "by allowing" should be rendered "because it allows". The writer is saying that allowing administrators to perform their duties (in the manner they go on to describe) is the reason for "administrative technology"'s importance.

This illustrates a general principle of English, one that particularly applies in longer sentences: use verbs. Nouns are wonderful things, but they don't half clutter up a sentence, and more importantly in this context, they are less salient than nouns. It's harder to figure out meaning when it is expressed in nouns simply because we understand meaning in the relation of symbols, not simply by examining symbols. Writing that is dynamic reads much more easily because verbs act as meaning "signposts".


"in a much more concise and impactful manner"

So often, "manner" acts as a general adverbialiser. "He did it in an angry manner" simply means "He did it angrily". Generally, simply using the adverb will improve the sentence immediately. But here "much more concisely and impactfully" just won't work.

First, "concise" means "to the point; brief" when talking about speech or writing. It doesn't mean "without frills", which is my best guess at the author's meaning here. I'd have to confirm that with them. I'd probably render this "without frills and with much more impact" or possibly just "much more effectively".

So the writer could have gone for:
When used correctly, administrative technology can be very important to the educational process because it allows administrators to perform their duties much more effectively.


It's still bullshit, but at least it's plain bullshit.

6 Comments:

At 3:41 pm, Blogger Looney said...

I hatehatehatehatehatehatehate the word "impactful." Sounds like something some doublespeaking marketing goon came up with in 2002 and now everyone else is using it.

 
At 3:44 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

"I hatehatehatehatehatehatehate the word "impactful." Sounds like something some doublespeaking marketing goon came up with in 2002 and now everyone else is leveraging it."

FYP, bro.

 
At 3:55 pm, Blogger Looney said...

LOL... beautiful, dood.

 
At 7:38 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

boots sez:

""Leveraged" is a horrible word. Here's a tip for you. If you do not write about finance or physics, you do not have any reason to use "leverage", and you never have reason, even in those fields, to use it as a verb."

Leverage also applies in software.

But verbalizing it can be sufficiently impactful to make one's teeth hurt.

 
At 11:35 pm, Anonymous oldbloke said...

I still have to determine the intended meaning of "leverage" on a case by case basis. Remarkably few uses seem to relate at all accurately to the mechanism we call a lever, which converts a small force acting over a large distance into a large force acting over a small distance.

 
At 10:26 pm, Blogger Arleen said...

I'm leaving myself wide open on this, but this is how I write when I'm tired and just want to get it on paper:

"The short-term goal of getting an online service off the ground is intended to establish the business within the community so that it can later leverage its reputation to secure investment funds to continue improvements to the business and to start the café."

I know, I know. Terrible.

This would be my correction, and you're saying I should simply replace leverage with use?

"The short-term goal of [name of startup company] is to establish itself within the community as a useful, successful business so that it can later leverage its reputation and continued growth and earning potential to secure investment funds for the ultimate goal of expansion beyond the virtual world to the physical world."

Still terrible. And yeah, use would work just as well.

I'm tired of reading and writing all this crap. I just want to start the business.

 

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