VisibleThread – Language Analysis Platform

What Trump’s 7 Banned Words for the CDC Highlight About Corporate Communications Challenges

2 min read

Fergal McGovern

CEO & Founder

On December 15th, the Washington Post reported that the white house told the CDC (Center for Disease Control) not to use 7 specific words in their communications.

The 7 banned words were: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based”.

Various media outlets including the Huffington Post argued that this was an Orwellian-like attempt to muzzle communications. Meanwhile, the CDC later clarified their perspective.

Putting aside the controversial nature of this example; content marketers and communications teams regularly struggle with this type of project.

For example, when a product name change occurs, or your brand guidelines tell you to avoid certain terms. Or where you must avoid overly complex terminology that will confuse your reader.

How do you:

  • Audit for this in both offline and online communications?
  • Quantify the impact on existing websites or documents?
  • Prevent the wrong language seeping back into published communications?

So, while Trump’s edict is controversial and newsworthy, it uncovers a serious content strategy issue that marketers and communications teams grapple with daily.

How do you keep content clean?

When dealing with non-approved or non-compliant language, there are 3 core questions to ask:

  1. How many occurrences of the offending terms exist?
  2. How much effort will it take to fix it?
  3. Which content should we prioritize for fixing?

In the CDC example, this would be nigh on impossible to do by hand. However, a new breed of language analysis tools makes it much easier to audit larger sites and collections of documents.

We used VisibleThread to search for the 7 words across the entire www.cdc.gov site.

Auditing the full CDC site for Trumps 7 words

We pointed the tool at www.cdc.gov. & kicked off an analysis

We then created a “search dictionary” containing the 7 words.

The results are in: 2,417 individual references to the 7 terms!

Our analysis found the number of:

  • Pages on the CDC site: 5,578
  • Pages containing the banned words: 1,082
  • Individual references to the banned words: 2,417

Here is the breakdown by frequency of each term.