October 15, 2006

Lose the jargon



Yes, I'm power-posting right now, because my blog is new and I don't want one or two lonely posts! Please don't hold me to this level of activity on a regular basis!

I learned many important and valuable things in grad school, but the three that really stuck with me are these: 1) you are responsible for your own learning, 2) don't "therapize" your mate, and 3) lose the jargon.

Jargon, lingo. . . whatever you want to call it, it doesn't belong in your presentation. Of the definitions I've found for jargon, my favorite is this:
"Language that is characterized by uncommon or pretentious vocabulary and convoluted syntax and is often vague in meaning."
This site says, "Generally speaking, jargon, in its most positive light, can be seen as professional, efficient shorthand."

These are words or expressions that are particular to one industry or profession. In the social services field where I worked for many years, our jargon included acronyms (DV = domestic violence, AFDC = Aid to Families with Dependent Children, SWOT = you can look that one up), descriptions of clients ("at-risk," "flat affect," "stakeholders"), and business terms ("best practices," "strategic thinking," "risk management").

As dry and boring as these terms are to people in your own field, imagine how they sound to people not in your field.

Using jargon in a presentation can create a barrier between you and the audience members who don't understand what you're talking about. It's especially distracting to an audience when it appears that you're trying to make yourself look smarter than them.

Even if your audience is in your profession and understands the terminology, jargon just isn't interesting. It doesn't engage your audience. It doesn't make them sit up and listen - the way they would if you came up with new ways of saying old things.

The Plain English Movement (also known as "plain language") is taking on jargon in all professions, but especially those known for confusing, ambiguous or complicated language - government, and the legal and medical professions.

Here's a short definition of "plain English," written by Bryan Garner in Legal Writing in Plain English.
"The phrase certainly shouldn't connote drab and dreary language. Actually, plain English is typically quite interesting to read. It's robust and direct—the opposite of gaudy, pretentious language. You achieve plain English when you use the simplest, most straightforward way of expressing an idea. You can still choose interesting words. But you'll avoid fancy ones that have everyday replacements meaning precisely the same thing."

Here's one plain language site, and there are many more.

I encourage you to speak as clearly and plainly as possible if you want to get your point across and truly communicate with your audience. As Bryan Garner says, you can still choose interesting words. But the words you choose will have so much more impact if the people listening can understand them.

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Angela Betts said...

Great topic for blogging, Lisa! I haven't developed a habit of regularly reading blogs yet, but after reading this I will be. :)

Angela Betts

Anne said...

I'm for straightforward, simple, get to the point talk! Good to know it's a movement.

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