7th September 2019
Is It Ever OK to Use Jargon? 5 Top Tips on Technical Language
Technical jargon is fine for those who understand the terminology. But what if your clients or customers don’t understand it? If you rely too heavily on jargon, you risk leaving non-specialists confused or uninformed.
This makes being able to explain complicated ideas in clear, simple terms crucial. And to help you do this, here are five tips on how to handle jargon.
1. What Is Jargon?
Broadly, “jargon” is specialized terminology from a defined area of activity or study. This includes everything from complex technical terminology to industry buzzwords, so you can find it used almost everywhere.
Not all jargon is equal, though. For instance, in a scientific paper, you may need to use complicated technical language to ensure accuracy. This is not what people usually mean when they use the term “jargon” negatively.
Rather, problems arise when jargon makes something difficult to understand. For instance, if a colleague threatens to punch a puppy, they may simply be announcing their intention to do something most would consider unthinkable. But if you don’t know this buzzword, you might not realize what it means, think a small dog is in danger, and call the ASPCA on them.
They key to using jargon well, then, is knowing when to use it.
2. Know Your Audience
Jargon can exclude people. And if you’re using technical language in your writing, you should consider whether your audience will understand it.
For instance, if you’re writing a paper for an academic conference, you can be confident those listening will know the technical language involved. But if you’re writing for a public lecture, where the audience may not share your educational background, dense jargon could be alienating or confusing.
You thus need to adapt your language to the audience. Some jargon is fine if you’re writing for peers who share a specialized vocabulary. In other cases, though, using layman’s terms will ensure more people can understand.
3. Simplify Language
Avoiding jargon doesn’t mean dumbing down. It just means using simpler language to make the same points. For instance, compare the following:
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Original: Although primarily reputed for innovating manifold neologisms, William Shakespeare was also a prolific proponent of paronomasia.
Simplified: Although best known for inventing many new words, William Shakespeare was also notable for using a lot of puns.
These sentences say the same thing. But the first one uses complex or unusual words such as “neologisms” and “paronomasia.” Meanwhile, the simplified version uses everyday language that anyone could understand, making it more accessible.
As a result, when writing for a non-specialist audience, it is worth looking for ways to simplify technical language. To do this, you can:
- Start with the most important point (most people want the relevant information right away rather than having to hunt through reams of text).
- Use a thesaurus to look for synonyms for complex terms.
- Favor the active voice over the passive voice.
- Use short, simple sentences wherever possible.
- Check “Plain Language” resources for alternative phrases or words.
- Read your writing out loud to hear how well it flows.
- Ask a non-specialist friend for feedback on clarity and vocabulary.
This should help you avoid alienating non-specialist readers.
4. Define Your Terms
If you use technical terms in your writing, define any unusual words so that readers can understand them. This also applies to initialisms and acronyms, especially if they’re not widely used outside your field of expertise.
You can either do this when you introduce a word or in a separate glossary. Remember, though, that readers may struggle to remember large numbers of new words, so it is still better to use everyday language where possible.
5. When Jargon Is Better
So far, we’ve focused on when not to use jargon. But there are reasons to favor technical terminology in some cases:
- It gives you authority – Being able to use technical language correctly will help you sound authoritative in writing, as it shows expertise.
- It helps you fit in – Knowing the vocabulary used in an industry is often vital for getting work and progressing in a career.
- Technical language is precise – As mentioned above, sometimes “jargon” is necessary for accuracy, especially in academic or technical writing.
Thus, while you should be cautious about jargon, it does serve a purpose. The trick is knowing when (and when not) to use it. And if you’d like feedback on technical language in your writing, our proofreaders can help.
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