Avoiding Bureaucratic Phrasing


Employees developed plans during the course of the project in order to create a standardized process with respect to regulation guidelines.

Did you understand that sentence reading through the first time? The sentence is filled with bureaucratic phrasing which makes the information more complex than necessary.

In the workplace, “bureaucratic” means involving complicated rules and processes that make something unnecessarily slow and difficult. People tend to use this style of phrasing because they believe there is permanence in writing. Say something and it’s gone, but write it down and it’s with us forever.

When people believe their writing is out there for all to see, they want to sound as professional and as knowledgeable as possible. But adding bureaucratic language isn’t the best way to sound like an expert. Many complex phrases read better when they are stripped down into simple words. For example, in the original sentence above, “in order to” can be reduced to “to” and “during the course of” can be simplified to “during”:

Employees developed plans during the project to create a standardized process with respect to regulation guidelines.

Using bureaucratic phrasing can make readers feel inadequate and indirectly exclude them from the conversation. This is why using plain, straightforward language in your writing is recommended instead.

The key is learning how to turn those overly complex phrases into simple words that mean the same thing. Here are some examples:

Bureaucratic PhraseSimple Word / Phrase
Along the lines ofLike
As of this dateYet, still, or now
At all timesAlways
Due to the fact thatBecause
Concerning the matter ofAbout
For the purpose ofFor, to
In spite of the fact thatAlthough

One guideline is to avoid words and phrases that you would not use in everyday speech. You would never say, “May I look over your paper in the near future in order to review it?” Why write it?

The goal of any documentation, whether it be a technical design document or an email, is to state your main point in a simple manner. Your readers should be able to easily find important information, quickly understand what information they should store for later use, and immediately recognize what is being asked of them. Avoiding bureaucratic phrasing can help you accomplish this.

Resources:

  • Hopkins, Graham. Why bureaucratic jargon is just a pompous waste of words. 12 Sept. 2000. The Guardian.
  • Richard Johnson-Sheehan. “Technical Communication Today: Special Edition for Society for Technical Communication Foundation Certification”. Fifth Edition.

Samantha Zerger, business analytics consultant with FRG, is skilled in technical writing. Since graduating from the North Carolina State University’s Financial Mathematics Master’s program in 2017 and joining FRG, she has taken on leadership roles in developing project documentation as well as improving internal documentation processes.

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