Does Your Audience Know What You’re Talking About?
Businesses tout core competencies, ecosystems, synergies; nonprofits pursue advancement, development, governance; churches disagree over theology, apologetics, and sanctification.
Choose your arena; jargon is everywhere. We use words we feel are shinier than plain language because others in our field are doing the same to show off their knowledge. If we mystify our audience, we think, with words they don’t understand, they will recognize that we know things they don’t and seek products, services or guidance from us.
That may be the way to impress academics, but heavy jargon use is no way to build trust. Organizations are often more worried about coming across as unprofessional in their communications than they are about being understood. You can’t blame the educated professional for this. We were all trained in school to write “up”: it was about impressing the professor, not about educating the other students.
What would it look like if organizations all dropped the pretense and just wrote what they meant?
Here’s some copy from a website for a law firm I won’t specify, chock full of jargon in bold:
“Our interdisciplinary corporate and transactional practices represent national and international clients of various sizes from a wide range of industries. LAW FIRM’S lawyers’ ability to draw on diverse practice areas within the firm is a key strength in negotiating a variety of specialized commercial contracts, as well as in most types of corporate transactions. We work with clients to help them meet their goals by effectively handling both routine corporate matters and high-stakes transactions that require innovative thinking and novel structures.”
This language was no doubt inspired by other law firms whose buzz words sounded thoroughly impressive to the copywriter who generated this text. Some of the wording is meaningless without specific examples (e.g. “specialized commercial contracts”), and some is so loose in meaning it might as well not be there at all (e.g. “innovative thinking” and “novel structures”).
Now for my jargon-free version:
“We have clients from all over the world, who serve their communities in a variety of ways. That’s why LAW FIRM’S team has experience in all types of business law. We look forward to helping you through your sale, purchase or any other legal challenge.”
Be honest. Did you glean any more information in the first version that makes a shred of difference as you decide whether to use this firm? Did jargon give you any added confidence, or did it just annoy or even confuse you?
You’re not writing for the teacher anymore. Still, you might wonder whether “dumbing down” your industry is a good idea. Don’t think of it that way. “Simple” is not the same as “dumb”. Simple is what busy professionals want. Nobody wants to waste brain power on deciphering jargon except the people who invent it.
Let’s leave the fancy talk in the classroom.