Replacing Jargon with Clear Writing

Matthew MacLachlan

5 Nov 2012

In today’s increasingly busy business environment it is vital to produce audience–friendly documents written in clear and accessible language. However, all too frequently we see an over-use of specialist language or jargon making it challenging for many readers to understand. This is particularly prevalent in specific business sectors such as law, banking or engineering and can cause confusion and frustration to others not working in the same industry and can reduce the impact of our written communication.

The Plain English Campaign has recently named and shamed the UK government again as a major jargon culprit. In October 2013 the UK’s credit regulations are going to change. These complex changes are very important and need to be explained to the public clearly and simply. However, the Department for Work and Pensions writes like this: ‘Transitional Protection will be calculated by comparing the total household monthly benefit and tax credit receipt at the point of migration with the total first household Universal Credit entitlement’. This type of financial language can be confusing to those of us who are not experts in the field and is often the source of much confusion and frustration among the public. It can also waste time for the government officials who have written in this way as they will have to deal with enquiries from people who do not understand the new regulations or with those of us who misinterpret them.

Below are some tips for replacing jargon with clear writing:

  • If you are a specialist in a specific industry or sector you may not even be aware of how much jargon you use in your written communication
  • If you can, ask someone less specialist to review your writing and check for jargon and technical gobbledegook. Use short, simple language to convey your message – where there is a shorter equivalent use it, don’t utilise it!
  • Don’t use acronyms unless they are very well-known – otherwise they can appear like undecipherable code words
  • Where possible avoid using nouns ending in –ation, for example precipitation instead of rain, or utilisation instead of use
  • Avoid using business speak and clichés such as ‘leverage’ or ‘granularity’

When working in your own specialist field it can be difficult to distinguish between what you see as clear writing and others read as jargon. Jargon to others can be your everyday workplace language. It is essential to try to understand your audience and their level of knowledge and expertise in order to know how best to pitch your written communication. Remember effective written communication is not about impressing your reader with your technical knowledge but conveying effectively and clearly the information that needs to be understood. This could save you time, confusion and a lot of headaches. Many organisations now invest in the soft as well as technical skills of their expert teams and offer business writing courses that train staff to consider their audience and write in clear, reader-friendly language.

 



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