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Reducing Jargon

by Tash Hughes of Word Constructions

Have you ever picked up a scientific or medical journal and tried to read it? Unless you are qualified in those fields, you probably got lost near the start of the first article you read.

If I asked “How are you?” in a language you don’t know, you wouldn’t know what I was asking.

In most cases, it is not so much that you couldn’t understand the topic but that you didn’t understand the language. In the case of the journals, they may be written in English but they use so much jargon that it may as well be in a foreign language for most people.

So, what is jargon exactly?

Jargon is the words used in a particular context that are meaningful to people experiencing that context. For instance, in the IT field, people will talk about bytes, LANs, binary and Ethernet – all of these words are jargon.

Jargon can be helpful or cause problems.

In itself, jargon is not a bad thing as it can make communicating with others in the field quicker and easier; compare saying ‘10 bytes’ to ‘ten strings of eight ones or zeros used to describe data’.

However, when used outside of the relevant field, jargon can be confusing and hinders understanding. It can even be used to make the outside person feel inferior because they don’t understand the jargon.

How does this affect my writing?

In clear communications, jargon must be avoided if the audience may not know it.

If you are writing a technical document that will only be read by your colleagues in the same field, then use jargon in the communication as it will be quicker.

However, if you are writing for a general audience, or you are not sure of their technical knowledge, it is best to use as little jargon as possible – and define any jargon you do use.

Once you have written something, go back through it and check for any words you consider to be jargon and determine if there is another word you could use instead.

Can I be sure what is jargon?

Many people grow so used to their industry language or jargon that they may not realize it is jargon when they prepare any documentation.

There are a number of techniques to reduce the amount of jargon you may unconsciously add to your writing:

    Ask someone else to read it and point out any words they don’t understand. Obviously, don’t ask your colleague who uses the same jargon as you

    Look up any words you suspect may be jargon in a standard dictionary. If it isn’t in there, you can assume it is jargon

    Think about how to talk to your friends at a social event – if you wouldn’t you use those words, they may well be jargon

    Check your work on another computer – if spell check grabs a correctly spelt word, it may be because it is uncommon enough to not be in the dictionary so may be jargon. Don’t’ use your own computer for this as you have probably added your jargon to your custom dictionary already!


Tash Hughes is the owner of Word Constructions and is available to solve all your business writing problems! From letters to policies, newsletters to web content, Word Constructions writes all business documents to your style and satisfaction.


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© 2003 - 12, Tash Hughes