We mentioned this in our resume mistakes post recently, and even though this is probably in the category of “Not useful until you need it” we’re gonna blahg about it today anyway.
Most of you reading this are either long done writing essays — Hallelujah! — or procrastinating writing essays — no comment — and you may not be in the right “mode” to receive the message in this post. Even if you are, by being in the throes of essay writing, many of you will skim over these words without them sinking in — unless you end up with this issue in your essays and we refer you back to this post. And then you’ll be all, “Aha! Now I know of what the ‘Snark was speaking that day.”
What we’re cautioning you about today is the use of what we call compound nouns — which are nouns made up of strung-together other-nouns and sometimes adjectives too. If you’re German, then this is just how language works. The Germans like to combine together a gazillion different words and call it a day. You get the word “biergarten” which isn’t too tough to understand as “beer garden” but they like to mush them together. Or you get a colloquial term like Dreikäsehoch which means “three” (Drei) “cheese” (käse) “high” (hoch) which is what someone might use to describe the height of a child — as in, three wheels of cheese, stacked together, is how tall the kid is.
You won’t be writing your essays in German and we also hope you won’t be cramming together a bunch of words to make your reader sort through what you’re saying.
This is a problem only when the reader won’t be familiar with the nouns that you are referencing. This often happens when naming your company or your project. For example, if you say that you “Led a team of 3 engineers to design, develop, and deploy the Whipporwhill Whaziwhozit Widget Library for IoT SaaS architecture channel platform in the IBM AI Automation Initiative” then your reader is gonna roll over and play dead on you right around the third term. Not only is that jam-packed with acronyms that most adcom readers a) don’t know, b) don’t care about, but it’s also just overloaded with, like, stuff.
It doesn’t even make a difference if you use plain English terms. The same thing happens if you have only “normal” language. This is equally problematic: “Successfully launched a new initiative for root cause mitigation of cyclical response time and improvement for secondary inputs mechanism.” That’s a made-up sentence but we’ve seen statements that are quite similar to that in BSers’ materials, and they are headache-inducing. All we get out of such a sentence is that you did something. It has some fancy-sounding words in there but we really don’t know what it’s about. We end up leaving such comments — “We really don’t know what this is about” — on many, many sentences of BSers’ essays when we go through the Essay Decimator review process with them.
So. Today’s advice is a plea. Please be kind to the reader! Please don’t overload compound nouns or cram together a bunch of adjectives in one part of a sentence. Yes you need to include a lot of information in order to provide context and meaning. But if there are too many unfamiliar terms all at once, what happens is your reader’s reading speed slows way down to a crawl…. And then they have to back up and read it again…. And often, read it again. And now, all of a sudden, you’re not reading, you’re studying and scrutinizing and puzzling over meaning and all of it is too much effort and we want to sigh and have a brownie.
You never want your reader to have to WORK to understand what you’re saying. (This goes in ALL THINGS in life and writing, BTW.)
Instead, break your ideas up into multiple sentences. “The team was having trouble meeting deadlines. I analyzed cycle times across projects and determined the root of the problem. The mitigation effort was…..” This isn’t always ideal either but it’s way (way!) better than before.
Also, examine whether everything is actually needed for the reader to understand. Do we care that it’s the “secondary” mechanism? (What is a “mechanism” anyway?) This is not just about avoiding jargon; it’s about simplifying and making things easy enough for an outsider to understand.
Sometimes, getting to the holy grail of compact impact means that you end up too far in the “compact” side, and the “impact” side is diminished or even fully destroyed. This, again, is why revision is key — which is, again, why we’re telling you to START NOW and get those MBA essays drafted if you’re aiming at Round 2!!!
If you really want to do some procrastinating today, you can read this 2011 essay by David Sedaris (one of the modern era’s greatest essay writers) wherein he talks about learning German.