Jargon is unnecessarily complicated language used to impress, rather than to inform, your audience.
When we say not to use jargon, we’re not advocating leaving out necessary technical terms, but we are saying to make sure your language is as clear as possible. For example, there may not be another correct way to refer to a “brinulator valve control ring.” But that doesn’t prevent you from saying “tighten the brinulator valve control ring securely” instead of “Apply sufficient torque to the brinulator valve control ring to ensure that the control ring assembly is securely attached to the terminal such that loosening cannot occur under normal conditions.” The first is a necessary use of a technical term. The second is jargon.
Special terms can be useful shorthand within a particular audience and may be the clearest way to communicate with that group. However, going beyond necessary technical terms to write in jargon can cause misunderstanding or alienation, even if your only readers are specialists.
Readers complain about jargon more than any other writing fault, because writers often fail to realize that terms they know well may be difficult or meaningless to their audience. Try to substitute everyday language for jargon as often as possible. Consider the following pairs. The plainer version conveys technical information just as accurately as and more clearly than the jargon-laden version.
|riverine avifauna||river birds|
|The patient is being given positive-pressure ventilatory support.||The patient is on a respirator.|
|Most refractory coatings to date exhibit a lack of reliability when subject to the impingement of entrained particulate matter in the propellant stream under extended firing durations.||The exhaust gas eventually damages the coating of most existing ceramics.|
When you have no way to express an idea except to use technical language, make sure to define your terms. However, it’s best to keep definitions to a minimum. Remember to write to communicate, not to impress. If you do that, you should naturally use less jargon. For more on definitions, see Dealing with definitions.
Legal language is a major source of annoying jargon. Readers can do without archaic jargon such as “hereafter,” “heretofore,” and “therewith.”
Professor Joseph Kimble (2006), a noted scholar on legal writing, warns that we should avoid words and formalisms that give legal writing its musty smell. He includes the following words in his list of examples:
“Shall” is also losing its popularity in legal circles. Obviously, it’s especially important in regulations to use words of authority clearly, and many legal writing experts recommend avoiding the archaic and ambiguous “shall” in favor of another word, depending on your meaning. Read more about “shall” in Use “must” to convey requirements.
Here is a brief list of meaningless filler phrases:
- Thinking outside the box
- Value added
- Best practice
- For all intents and purposes
- Touch base
- Integrating quality solutions
- Promoting an informed and synergistic teams
- Strategically engaging departments, and so on…
- Charrow, Veda R., Erhardt, Myra K. and Charrow, Robert P., Clear & Effective Legal Writing_, 4th edition, 2007, Aspen Publishers, New York, NY, pp. 188-191.
- Garner, Bryan A., Garner's Modern American Usage, 2003, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, pp. 472-473.
- Kimble, Joseph, Lifting the Fog of Legalese, 2006, Carolina Academic Press, Durham, NC, pp.173-174.
- Redish, Janice C., Writing Web Content that Works, 2007, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, San Francisco.