As a writer, your job is to make your writing enjoyable and easy to understand. That applies to everything you write, whether it’s a manual, a text book, a report, or any other type of technical writing that isn’t typically known as being “enjoyable” reading material.
Writers will often use industry jargon to make their writing easier to read and understand. But—as every reader knows—it doesn’t always work. In some cases, using industry jargon provides clarity. But in other cases, industry jargon will leave readers bewildered, frustrated, or bored.
So, how do you know when and how to use industry jargon so that your writing is clearer and easier to read? Continue reading to learn more.
What is Jargon?
Before getting into the dos and don’ts of using industry jargon, it’s important to know exactly what it is.
Here are Merriam-Webster’s definitions:
1. the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group
2. obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words
3. a confused unintelligible language
b. strange, outlandish, or barbarous language or dialect
c. hybrid language or dialect simplified in vocabulary and grammar and used for communication between peoples of different speech
Here’s Oxford’s definition:
1. Special words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand.
1.1 archaic- A form of language regarded as barbarous, debased, or hybrid.
If you’re looking at jargon from a positive viewpoint, you’ll see it as something you use to make language clearer and more precise. If you’re looking at jargon from a negative viewpoint, you’ll see it as something that’s unnecessary. However, once you know the ins and outs of how to accurately use jargon, perhaps you will never again view it as unnecessary.
Examples of Jargon
HMO, PPO, value-based purchasing, subsidized coverage, subcutaneous
Abscond, execute, indictable offense, negotiable instrument, exhibit
UI (user interface), CSS (cascading style sheets), sunset, dark data, data mining
Brick and mortar, POP (point of purchase), cross-sell, FIFO (First-In-First-Out)
SEO, PPC, impressions, CTA, landing page, content curation
Do Know Your Audience
This valuable rule should be applied to anything you write, but especially when you’re using industry jargon. If jargon includes terms and phrases that only a specific group of people will understand, then don’t use it when writing something for a more general audience. For instance, when writing something for a group of doctors, it’s helpful if you write “The patient is experiencing pharyngitis,” instead of “She has a sore throat.” But if you’re writing something for a more general audience, don’t use medical terminology they may not understand.
Do Provide Context
Don’t always assume that your audience will understand industry jargon, even if they’re a part of the group for whom you’re writing. Industries introduce new jargon and acronyms all the time. Therefore, you’ll want to include context in sentences in which you use jargon whenever possible, at least when you first introduce a term. Especially do this when using acronyms. Otherwise, your writing will simply look like incoherent alphabet soup. And when necessary, include a glossary of acronyms and jargon so that your readers don’t get lost.
For example, instead of writing “Let’s sunset that platform next quarter,” write “Let’s sunset that platform next quarter—we’ll stop using it and terminate it.” And instead of writing “SEO will be huge next year for all CMOs,” write, “Search engine optimization will be huge for all chief marketing officers.”
Do Avoid Repetition
Another valuable rule to follow is don’t repeat anything too much. If you introduce jargon, don’t use it in every other sentence. Doing so will lessen its impact in your writing. If you provide context for jargon in one section of your piece, don’t explain what it means each time you use it. That will only insult your audience.
Do Differentiate Jargon from Common Idioms
It’s important to remember that jargon isn’t the same thing as an idiomatic phrase. For instance, the phrases, “it’s raining cats and dogs” and “break a leg” are idioms (colloquial sayings or expressions that sound nonsensical when read literally or translated into another language). They are not jargon intended for a specific group of industry professionals.
Idioms are more informal nonsensical phrases and terms that are used among larger groups who share a culture or reside in the same region. But jargon typically has a specific meaning and is intended for a smaller group of people who share common activities, professions, or interests, but who may not live in the same region.
Don’t Over-Embellish or Overuse Jargon
When using jargon, don’t overemphasize its meaning by including a lot of unnecessary adjectives and descriptive language around it. Remember that jargon is meant to refer to something that has a concrete meaning. Over-embellishing its meaning will lessen its impact and importance in your writing.
Also, don’t use so much jargon in your writing that your readers will have to translate everything you write. At all costs, try not to use too many acronyms in your writing; after a while “CEO,” “CFO,” and “CIO” start looking the same. And never use more than two or three acronyms or jargon words in a sentence. This will just annoy and frustrate your readers, rather than make you appear as an expert.
Don’t Use Slang as Jargon or Jargon as Slang
A lot of people think jargon is slang, but it’s not. Slang (like idiomatic phrases) is unprofessional and should never be used in important industry writing. Slang includes terms like “groovy,” “frenemy,” “jonesing,” etc. But jargon includes terms like “left-wing politics”, “SCOTUS”, “FAQs”, etc.
Slang is also informal and can be deemed offensive in certain instances, whereas jargon is intended for more clarity within certain groups. Don’t interchange the two or you may end up offending your target audience or diminishing your credibility with them altogether.
Don’t Use Jargon to Meet a Word Count
Don’t include a bunch of industry jargon to meet a word count requirement. If you know your audience understands certain jargon, don’t feel the need to explain it over and over again. You will only bore and insult them. The point of industry jargon is to make things clearer and more precise, not to make a piece of writing longer, more convoluted, and boring to read.
Again, provide context around jargon you use for clarity, but don’t overdo it by over-explaining and embellishing terms. And always have a glossary of terms available if you use more than ten or so instances of jargon throughout a piece of writing.
Don’t Forget Your Own Voice
When using jargon, don’t get so caught up in what everyone else means when they use the terms and phrases that you don’t have your own unique way of representing it. While jargon has a specific meaning for a specific group, it can be discussed and used in other ways. In other words, don’t just regurgitate what everyone says when they’re using jargon. It will come across as if you don’t know what the jargon means.
For example, don’t use jargon about “SEO” if you don’t know what it really means, even if you are talking about how to optimize website content for search engines. And if you don’t agree with what everyone else is saying about SEO, then remember your own voice and represent jargon surrounding SEO in a different way.
Overall, when using jargon, always remember your audience and use jargon sparingly and appropriately.
What do you think about using jargon? Do you have any favorite pieces of jargon, or any pet peeves? Share them with us in the comments below.