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Friday, March 15, 2013

Junk the Jargon and Write in Plain English

You'd think we all know not to use the jargon--the unique, technical or unusual lingo--of our profession, hobby or industry when writing to people not involved in those particular pursuits.

But sadly, that's not the case. In this column, Brian Scott defines the problem:

Jargon is a specialized writing style often abused by big business, certain trade industries in the legal and medical fields, federal and state governments, and institutes of education. Jargon contains "workshop words," vague figures of speech, hackneyed expressions, and pompous writing that communicators use obsessively to communicate with their peers and colleagues. ...
jargon Avoid jargon, the special or technical words, phrases and idioms of a particular class, profession or occupation. Example:The biota exhibited a 100 percent mortality response. Rewrite: All the fish died. When jargon is necessary, explain or define terms that will be difficult for most readers to understand.
Scott describes the consequences of using jargon when writing to other people who don't know or use it: 
Jargon creates wordiness in a document. Wordiness often creates confusion. Confusion leads to a lack of understanding. Overuse of passive voice, using bigger words instead of simpler synonyms, and lack of specifics contribute to jargon. Too much jargon in a document is said to "muddy its meaning" because readers have trouble understanding its true purpose.
He goes on to mention some reasons writers use jargon. And then he provides some advice on eliminating jargon from your writing.

Scott recommends using plain English (aka plain language) to eradicate jargon and verbose words:
The focus is on the reader and conveying the message and the importance of the document. Not only does plain English writing create clear communication, but the results are more effective in grabbing and keeping readers' interest. When readers do not have to pause constantly to grasp a word or feel lost in the clutter of hackneyed expressions, their brains are more receptive to keep reading and learning what the document is communicating.
He concludes by highlighting a key principle of plain English/language, write to meet the needs of readers: 
The ideal method to prevent jargon is to know your audience. Can they read and understand what you are writing? If you have a gut feeling that a word or phrase might cause confusion, substitute it with a better word.
I provide more advice and information on clear, concise writing at Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes the process in seven steps:
  • Focusing on your reader and purpose
  • Organizing your ideas
  • Writing clear, effective paragraphs
  • Writing clear, simple sentences
  • Using suitable words
  • Creating an enticing design
  • Testing for clarity.
Also see Garbl's Concise Writing Guide. This guide can help make your documents easier to read and understand. It provides concise alternatives to overstated, pompous words; wordy, bureaucratic phrases; and redundant phrases.

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Scott's article is featured today, March 15, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

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