Imagine opening your child’s report card and reading the following:
“He demonstrates the principles of movement using locomotion, manipulation and stability skills.”
“She explains how the particular characteristics of various text forms help to communicate meaning, with a focus on literary, graphic and informational texts.”
These are actual examples of the gibberish Ontario parents have been trying to decipher for the past decade. Although this language meant something to school administrators, most parents had no idea how it related to their kids.
When I saw this story on the local news, it made me laugh. It proves how professionals in every organization, from huge technology companies to your local public school, can overuse jargon.
Communicating with jargon is understandable. Since you are immersed in your field on a daily basis, it may only seem natural that others should speak your language.
However, using jargon in your communications can confuse your readers and make them feel alienated. If your message gets lost under layers of complex technical talk, your prospects will look elsewhere for answers to their problems.
Here are 5 tips to help you understand when to use jargon and when to avoid it:
1. Think About Who is Buying Your Product or Service
Even if your target audience understands your industry, they may not have the final say when it comes to purchasing your product or service. Many mid-level professionals don’t have buying power and must run their purchases past an executive or someone in another department.
If your copy is jargon-heavy, the executives who make the final buying decisions may not understand how your product or service can benefit their bottom line. Therefore, they won’t approve the purchases. You may want to think about everyone who has a say during your sales process and create marketing pieces geared towards their needs.
2. Avoid the Biggest Business Writing Mistake
Many people think their writing should sound formal to connect with a professional audience. However, too much jargon can make your copy stiff and difficult to read. Readers relate more to conversational messages.
3. Don’t Make Your Complex Products More Complicated
Using jargon to describe a complex product can make it seem even more complicated. People won’t buy a product if they think it’s difficult to use.
4. Get Outside Feedback
Run your copy past someone outside your company – preferably a member of your target audience. If they are confused, you may need to simplify your message.
5. Know Jargon is OK – Sometimes
Use jargon only if you are 100% certain your audience knows your subject and will understand the terms.
Jargon can be beneficial to explain your product’s features to others within your industry. For example, it’s OK to use the term “SEO” if you are writing a piece aimed at web developers.
When in doubt, leave the jargon out.
UPDATE: I wrote this article about a year ago and recently saw another news story about the unreadable report cards. Thanks to jargon, the school district has been dealing with a PR crisis for over a year. They are still working to resolve the problem.