Academic excellence, collaborative environment, top-notch programs, immersive experiences, experiential learning – what do each of these terms have in common? They’re all overused buzzwords in higher EDU. We’re all guilty of it, but how can we stop using them and start creating original content that conveys personality and value?

The Buzzword Conundrum

While journalist Rex Huppke is being somewhat satirical when he calls buzzwords evil, he hits the nail on the head when he says they must be stopped. No, it’s not a life or death situation, but it’s certainly a matter of importance when it comes to creating highly engaging content that adds value to online publications, blogs, websites, magazines, newspapers, and other sources of credible information.

“Despite having a perfectly good and well-tested English language, corporate America continually cranks out new words and phrases, or applies existing words in new ways: consumerization, hyper-connectivity, value-added, leverage,” writes Huppke. In the higher EDU sector, you could replace those latter four buzzwords with alternatives like hands-on education, world-class facilities, real-world experiences, or internationally renowned.

The point is that we, as a society, have opted for laziness over descriptiveness. While buzzwords start as unique terms with good intentions, they eventually become so overused that they fail to resonate. Instead, everyone starts saying and writing the same things. In an industry where learning and growing are valued so much, this isn’t a good thing.

From a marketing perspective, this isn’t a positive thing, either. If all of your content is filled with meaningless, regurgitated industry buzzwords, all you’re doing is matching your competitors and blending in. “Buzzword proliferation is making communication harder, and companies should demand clear language,” Huppke writes.

3 Risks of Being Buzzword-Dependent in Higher EDU

Specifically, here are the risks of being dependent on buzzwords in higher EDU:

  • Poor understanding. In a lot of cases, buzzwords are ambiguous. Nobody really knows exactly what they mean, just that they’re trendy and hip. Even worse is when those within the industry know what they mean, but the students, parents, readers, and consumers don’t. When this is the case, there’s a major disconnect and clarity is compromised.

  • SEO challenges. Everyone is producing original content these days, which means it’s becoming increasingly difficult to rank for specific keywords and terms. If you’re using the same buzzwords and jargon as everyone else, that challenge becomes exponentially greater.

  • Lack of branding. ​Finally, your choice to use buzzwords compromises your brand’s voice and prevents you from standing out. Instead of conveying a unique image, you’re simply falling in line with the rest of the competition.

Tips for Eliminating Buzzwords and Vague Jargon

Don’t be mistaken; it’s not always easy to do away with buzzwords. They’re so ingrained in our vocabulary that it takes work and conscious effort to overcome them. However, if you want to set your institution or brand apart from the myriad of others using the same basic vocabulary, here are some things you need to know:

  • Never assume. The absolute worst thing you can do is assume your audience understands the buzzwords you’re using. If you instead operate under the assumption that they have no clue what a given buzzword means, you’ll find new and better ways to develop thoughts.

For example, instead of saying, “We believe in creating immersive experiences for our students,” it would be more effective to say, “We strive to give our students opportunities to learn real-life skills through interactive experiments and trainings led by industry professionals.” It may not be as clean or brief, but since when is brevity preferred over clarity?

  • Listen to your readers. Whenever a reader comments on a blog post or article, dig in and learn from how they write. What words do they use? Are they different than the language you use? Are they questioning something that was ambiguous? You can learn a lot by listening to how your target audience communicates. It’s better to meet them where they are, rather than the other way around.

  • Be yourself. Just act natural! If you stop trying to mimic the competition and start writing with personality, you’ll do just fine. Create a brand story and stick to it. Develop a terminology that’s consistent with your core values, even if it boldly stands out against industry norms.

Just as you look for friends that are honest and forthcoming, parents, students, and faculty members want to work with institutions that are genuine. It’s not always easy, but being your own brand will pay dividends down the road. Successful institutions don’t get where they are by following the same path as everyone else.

  • Spell out acronyms. Many buzzwords are acronyms, which further complicates things and confuses the reader. If you’re going to use acronyms, make sure you spell them out at least once before using the abbreviated letters. This not only educates the reader regarding what the acronym stands for, but also gives them a reference point, should they later discover they don’t understand something.

  • Don’t talk down. According to April Dunford of Startup Marketing and Sales, whenever you use ambiguous buzzwords, “you force customers to interpret what you mean when you say them.” And when readers feel like they have to interpret or read between the lines, it often feels like you’re talking down to them. Readers want to feel like they’re on an even playing field – not being belittled.