Jargon is a beast that many writers battle regularly.
I made the following edits to the first paragraph of an article for my company’s website. The article was written by one of our in-house cyber security experts.
“Cyber criminals are using a spectrum of attack vectors—ransomware, phishing attacks and other malware infections—to obtain illicit access to electronic protected health information (ePHI).”
“Cyber criminals are using a spectrum of tools—ransomware, phishing attacks and other malware infections—to obtain access to electronic protected health information (ePHI).”
The author of this paragraph insisted that we keep the term “attack vectors” because “this is the nomenclature used in cyber-security literature.”
However, the post was not intended for “cyber-security literature,” but instead, for an audience of non-technical clients.
This brings me to the topic of jargon. Here are five reasons you should avoid it in your writing—and why you should edit it out of other people’s writing:
1. Write for your audience.
One of the basics of good writing is to know your audience: the “end user” of what you’ve written.
In the example, a non-technical audience may not know the meaning of “attack vectors.” Using that term is not necessary when simpler words such as “techniques” or “tools” can be used.
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Think about where and under what circumstances your readers will access your content. When was the last time you made it through a technical or jargon-filled article on your phone while standing in line at the grocery store?
2. Your audience will stop reading.
The use of unfamiliar or complex terms interferes with comprehension and slows readers down. People often skip terms they don’t understand and move to the next paragraph or start skimming the article.
3. Jargon pushes readers away.
It’s not a huge leap from skimming to clicking away. Readers won’t take the time to find the meaning of an unfamiliar term in the rest of your article. They’ll simply find what they’re looking for on another website.
4. Using jargon doesn’t make you sound smarter.
Instead, using jargon makes you seem out of touch with your readers. They might abandon your content in search for something easier to read—something “meant” for them.
Save the jargon for the footnotes, or for links to a reference or a glossary page. Acronyms can be linked to their definitions.
5. There are better word choices.
English is a versatile language, and we have a wealth of synonyms available.
Use a thesaurus or keyword search tools to find alternative terms that speak to your readers.
Ragan readers, please share your jargon-cutting techniques in the comment section below.
Laura Hale Brockway is a regular contributor to Ragan.com and PR Daily. Read more of her posts on writing, editing and corporate life at impertinentremarks.com.