How to save money on copy editing #3: Jargon away!


“They are shells of words: words from which life has gone, facsimiles, frauds, corpses.” - Don Watson

Having spent the best part of ten years in the university sector I have an eye twitch when it comes to jargon. Most of us stop listening when we hear it.

The definition is innocuous enough: The technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group.

Sounds useful – shortcuts to an assumed meaning that we collectively understand. Hold up, though. I think we need to look closer at that shortcut. The path from word to meaning holds a lot of assumptions. Bob Dylan noted that every listener thinks of their own meaning when they hear a word as simple as ‘camera’.  

What is wrong with jargon? Here’s the summary:

  1. You’ll be misunderstood and alienate your reader

  2. You’ll look like you don’t know what you’re talking about, relying on jargon to make it sound like you do

  3. You’ll create suspicion that you do know what you are talking about but are remaining shady about the detail and seeking to manipulate.

George Orwell was pretty sure it was malicious. ‘Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.’

So, what to do if you really do want to communicate clearly:

  1. Pretend you’re explaining the concept to a person who’s never heard of what you do.

  2. Be aware of your industry jargon. (Ask yourself – is this the only way to communicate your message? Answer – usually not.)

  3. When writing to laypeople, print your work and circle the jargon words then intentionally work out a different way to explain each jargon shortcut. (Note – it might take more words, but at least we’ll understand!)

If these steps seem impossible, contact us. So long as you don’t have too serious a case of Jargonitis, it won’t take long (or much money) to guide you to clarity. (And we’ll all feel better.)

Writing in clear language makes you look strong, confident and trustworthy. (And actually feel this way, too.)

May your words pour onto the page,

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