In this column, Vista provides practical tips to help you write clearly and concisely, including best practices for using Microsoft Word. Please leave suggestions for future posts in the comments. Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss a tip!
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Jargon is the enemy of clear communication. What is it? The dictionary defines jargon as “the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group,” but it can also mean “unnecessarily complicated, technical language used to impress, rather than to inform, your audience”. It’s this second category of jargon that you should avoid. Using jargon suggests that you aren’t confident enough in what you’re saying to simply say it; you’re trying to dress it up to make yourself sound smart.
For instance, you’ve probably seen sentences like this one: “We will leverage the core competencies of our essential resources to actualize synergies in an expeditious and integrated manner.” Huh? A better way to say this is, “We will use our skills to create a strong team.” It’s more direct, much clearer, and sounds more genuine because it’s something a person might say in real life. The author isn’t trying to dazzle you with fancy words.
To avoid jargon, always use the simplest words you can and keep your sentences short. Another good practice is to mimic natural speech in your writing. Just because a document is formal doesn’t mean that it has to be confusingly legalistic. Try reading your writing aloud, and ask yourself if it’s something you would say to your reader if they were in the room with you. Remember that some of your readers may be non-native English speakers, and jargon complicates their reading experience.
For an excellent overview of jargon and how and why to avoid it, see this article on the PlanLanguage.gov website.