Don’t Let Jargon Hide Your Message

One of the main barriers to business communication, both in writing and in speech, is the inappropriate use of jargon.

Is the reader a member of your company, your organization, your industry or profession? If so, a certain amount of jargon may be appropriate. After all, jargon comes into being simply because it is often the best means of communication among members of a particular group.

The problem arises, however, when we forget that a reader is outside the group, and may not understand our special language. Jargon is a special type of “insider” language designed to communicate easily with other members of a group. So there’s no reason why outsiders should know your jargon.

They won’t necessarily tell you they don’t understand because, ironically, they think they should know! So because of inappropriate language, the message is lost and communication breaks down.

Imagine a cocktail party conversation involving a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a plumber, a commercial printer and a rock musician – all using their own professional jargon. What a confusing noise that would produce!

That’s exactly the effect you create when you use your professional jargon, your own special “in” language, to readers outside the group. They won’t understand, and if they don’t understand the words you use, you have thrown up a major barrier to communication.

Helen’s Jargon Challenge

Take a sheet of paper and divide it into two columns. Down the left column, list as many of your own jargon terms as you can remember. Keep the list beside you for a few days and add to it as you think of terms. Now, in the right column, opposite each jargon term write a plain language substitute. I don’t mean an explanation, but a word or phrase you could actually use in place of the jargon.

If you use a lot of acronyms or initials, don’t just write them out in full – sometimes the full phrase is still jargon! Make sure your “translation” is something that outsiders could understand. If in doubt, ask one or two people from outside your field if they understand the words, and if they don’t, keep editing until they do.

Now make a point of using these plain language equivalent words and phrases any time you are writing or speaking to anyone outside the group that uses your jargon. You just multiplied the chances of your message being received and understood!