Jargon and the Reader

Jun 18, 2012 | Better Writing

Every field and interest group has some jargon. For those in the know, jargon makes communication easy and precise. Alas, not everyone is in the know, so you must consider your readers and your purpose to determine how and when to use jargon.

Let’s say that you’re going to write an article, blog post, or book on “agile” methods in manufacturing or software development. There are four ways to use jargon, depending on your reader and your purpose.

If your audience knows the jargon, skip the definitions and use it. For example, you can assume that your readers know what a “scrum” is in this context. Don’t waste time or your readers’ attention on things they already know.

What if you’re writing to explain agile principles to your readers? Then use concrete examples, charts, and graphics to make things clear. You may want to include a simple glossary.

Sometimes you want to explain the concept without introducing the jargon. When Deborah Jackson and I worked on her Easy Marketing for Women, Deborah wanted to use as little marketing jargon as possible, but still teach basic marketing principles.

The biggest challenge is when you have a mixed audience. Some of your readers understand the jargon and others may not. This is often the case for general business articles.

If you’re publishing in print, use a very brief definition when you use a term for the first time. Supplement with a brief glossary or chart at the end of the article if necessary.

If you’re writing on the web, then links are your best friend. Link to explanations of terms when you use them for the first time. You can still use brief explanations, a glossary, and charts, but links are the way most of the readers who need it will get more information.

Don’t try to work this out as you go along. Decide before you start who your readers will be and how you should use specialized jargon, if at all.

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