From the Editor’s Desk: Keep it simple. Remove jargon. 6 ways you can do this.
Published on May 27th, 2011 by Monica Nakamine
For media professionals, communication is what it’s all about — clear, concise and sometimes clever messaging is essential. But, if you’ve ever flipped through a technical journal on immunological bioinformatics or a dissertation on electrophoretic systems (both of which are actual disciplines), you probably didn’t understand, much less were able to pronounce, many words even though these documents are (seemingly) written in English. That’s because they were written for an audience that has the vocabulary to understand those concepts. They’re “all Greek” to people within the general population.
Perhaps this is an extreme example, but it illustrates the point of this article: To communicate to a broad audience, keep it simple – get rid of jargon. Even journalists have their own vocabulary: “nut graph,” “byline,” “jump” and so on. Architects are also notorious for being big jargon-users. If you wrote a general piece that included those specialized terminologies, would the strangers sitting next to you on the train understand it? Unless they know a little something about journalism or architecture, probably not.
Sometimes, you can’t avoid “getting technical” if the crux of your piece demands it. But, if you can steer clear of jargon, you will be able to communicate with a larger audience and encourage people to share your content through their various social networks. Just because you’re simplifying your piece doesn’t have to mean you’re dumbing it down.
Here are a few writing tips that can help you get past the technicalities:
- Know your audience.
This goes without saying for any type of communications you create and send out into the world. Perhaps using jargon is warranted. For instance, if you’re writing a piece on architecture for an architectural magazine, using architectural terms is not only appropriate, but might even be expected. However, would that same piece be as easily understood to, say, the readers of Good Housekeeping magazine?
- Simplify without dumbing down.
Maybe your architectural piece could resonate with the Good Housekeeping audience, minus all the architectural references. Unless the piece is a deep architectural exploration that requires technical terminology, then simplification is do-able. Just replace that architectural term with a brief description or explanation of what you’re trying to convey.
Before: “The architectural team reconfigured the structure’s fenestration.”
After: “The architectural team reconfigured the arrangement and proportions of the structure’s windows.”
- First, spell it out.
Jargon can come in the form of acronyms, abbreviations or initials. For your architectural piece, you could assume that the readership for the architectural publication knows what ACT stands for, in which case it may not need further explanation. But, for the Good Housekeeping folks? Perhaps not. A good work-around for that is to spell it out, at first reference, immediately followed by the acronym in parentheses. From then on, use that acronym for subsequent references.
Example: “Acoustical ceiling tile (ACT) was used to amplify the quality of sound that resonated within the school’s music building. But, ACT was not used for the school’s auditorium.”
- Provide examples or analogies.
Explaining concepts in narrative form helps people to identify with and understand what you’re trying to convey.
Before: “The crack in the building was long, but it was only as thick as a single nanometer.”
After: “The crack in the building was long, but was only as thick as a strand of hair.”
- Test it on your grandma.
Unless your grandma is/was an architect, have her read your architectural piece that you revised for the Good Housekeeping audience. If she can easily comprehend what you’re trying to convey, despite the removal of all jargon, then you’ve succeeded in broadening your piece for a more general audience.
- When in doubt, leave it out.
Unless you’re 100% sure that your audience will understand your references to technical or specialized terminology, best not to include it. Not only will you lose those broader audiences, but you may end up sounding pompous by assuming they know what you’re talking about. On that note, if the general concept is not essential to the story, leave it out.
These days, there’s no telling where your content will end up or who will read it. Through social sharing, third-party links, press release distribution, even email, content can be distributed to all ends of the earth and is no longer sitting in one place waiting to be consumed. Unless the jargon you use is common terminology to your audience (i.e., using architectural references to an architectural audience), consider rephrasing those concepts to communicate to a wider audience (i.e., the Good Housekeeping demographic).
For other journalist-focused tips and resources, visit Marketwire’s webpage that is dedicated to help members of the media stay informed and on top of the companies and industries they’re interested in.
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