Whether you work in the tech industry in San Francisco or the energy sector in Houston, you will encounter business jargon from colleagues at some point in your career.
In this article, we dive into why and how to avoid jargon in technical writing.
Is Jargon Good or Bad?
First, let’s clarify the definition of the term. If you use jargon, you are employing a vocabulary or terminology that has developed for a particular professional, technical, or subcultural niche that’s arcane and sometimes impenetrable to people outside that specialized context.
When others speak in jargon, they may use overly complicated or technical speech to flaunt their knowledge–or they may just forget that the general public does not widely understand the terms they’re using. This restricted language can be highly exclusive or exceedingly wordy, but either way, it is not part of the vocabulary of the broader culture.
This can be especially true in writing in the engineering field, for example, which may contain technical, obscure terms. It may also be true of the everchanging “slang” of different youth cultures, whose terms are indecipherable to their elders.
Sometimes, people who work all day within a career or focused activity niche where they speak the jargon with colleagues can forget that most other people are not familiar with their specialized terms. We often hear of legal jargon and the jargon of computer technicians, but we may also hear the jargon of people working in auto repair or people who play video games intensively.
A hypothetical example: “We work to energize our synchronistic properties for increased uptake.” Due to the awkward combination of terms, most of us would have no idea what the writer is trying to say in this sentence.
At best, jargon risks confusing the audience through wordiness or the use of obscure terms. At worst, it completely defeats the intent of the writer to communicate with clarity.
Therefore, you should generally avoid using jargon unless you define the words for your readers who may not understand them. As a writer, be sure to know the audience you’re trying to reach and become familiar with its linguistic niche. Then, write to that audience in a language that it will have no trouble interpreting.
Why Should You Avoid Using Jargon?
Recalling the Five Cs of Effective Communication, we suggest a few reasons why you should avoid jargon.
Wordiness and pretentious language interfere with the clarity of your writing, as do terms that readers need to look up in a dictionary. Clear prose should be the guiding principle in anything you write. Eliminate unnecessary words and replace them with simpler language in every sentence.
Before: I gasp, throat tightening due to the properties of the peanuts, which have triggered some type of strange reaction.
After: After eating peanuts, I feel my throat swell up.
To form a cohesive message, be sure to include only the most relevant details. Do not wander off on semi-related tangents or add in a random fact for the sake of fun.
Before: Did you know that adult male chickens can propel themselves up to 200 feet in the air? Meanwhile, roosters don’t lay eggs. Also, roosters crow at sunrise. In this blog post, we will talk about roosters.
After: Did you know that roosters can fly up to 200 feet? In this blog post, we will discuss the rooster’s aerodynamic abilities.
If you want to convey an idea, you need to include enough information for your reader to understand, but not so many details that they are overwhelmed. Too much information can bury and obscure your message. Employ the Goldilocks principle: Not too much, not too little, but just right.
Before: The heat transforms the yolk’s properties. The yolks change from liquid to solid. The newly-transformed yolks are now edible scrambled eggs.
After: Heat cooks the yolks, transforming them into scrambled eggs.
Think of what you learned in high school English about Hemingway-like prose. Why use five words to describe something when you can use three instead? Readers prefer a more concise prose for ease of reading and the ability to skim. An excessive description often serves as filler material, which you could replace with more meaningful words.
Before: The purple-hued peony basks marvelously under the sun’s glowing gaze.
After: The purple peony grows in the sun.
Flowery sentences often dance around a topic without directly addressing the main issue. This method may work well in creative fiction, but it has the opposite effect in writing in engineering.
When you’re writing, be sure to be as precise as possible. Use specific and concrete language. Avoid using vague terms that will leave your audience guessing.
Before: The software works well but could be better.
After: The software meets company expectations, but it could run more smoothly by changing X, Y, and Z.
How Do I Remove Jargon?
To avoid jargon in your business or technical writing, here are a few strategies to keep in mind:
- When in doubt, ask a friend who doesn’t know anything about your field to read your article. Get honest feedback. Did they understand all the information? Was it clear? If not, did obscure language cause problems?
- Read your writing aloud, and also go through your writing line by line, underlining unnecessary words. You will spot more obscurities by incorporating this process into your writing practice.
- Understand your audience. A group of experts will expect and tolerate more technical terms than a layperson.
Effective Communication Skills
Why should you avoid jargon? First of all, ask what you’re trying to accomplish. Do you want to communicate a new idea to clients and customers or are you demonstrating your expertise to colleagues in the field?
Whatever your decision, make sure that your writing creates understanding in your audience, not confusion.
Hope these tips will help you look at sentences in a new way.
Check out more technical writing tips in our resources section.