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Kill jargon, before jargon kills your message

Using jargon often raises more questions than it answers. The goal of a communicator should be to avoid jargon from creeping into press releases and presentations.

October 15, 2021 / 05:32 PM IST
Too many people use jargon without even thinking of whether it is helping them communicate better to a wider audience.

Too many people use jargon without even thinking of whether it is helping them communicate better to a wider audience.

Note to readers: On social media, in conversations, and in press releases and interviews, we all tell stories about ourselves and our businesses. This is a monthly column on how to tell more compelling stories. Each column will look at one aspect of content strategy for individuals, companies and brands.

We use jargon every day. Often we don’t even realise that we are using jargon because our colleagues use it all the time and eventually we repeat it. People often do this to belong, to tell everyone else they are in, and to sound smart.

The problem is that too many people use jargon without even thinking of whether it is making them communicate better to a wider audience. Let’s take an example that everyone is familiar with nowadays. What if your doctor told you that you need a respirator to step out of the house. Chances are, the term respirator will conjure an image of tubes and a breathing device. A respirator is medical jargon for a mask. In order to communicate effectively, health agencies and doctors will tell people to wear a mask. They will rarely use the word respirator, which is medical jargon, even though they may use it amongst their peers.

But most of us are so used to hearing business jargon that we toss around words such as strategic partnership, when we mean partnership, or paradigm shift when we mean a big change, or bandwidth when we mean capacity. And when these words find their way to a larger audience, it leaves them wondering what you really mean. Good communication means that everyone understands your message, even those outside your professional network, or those who have no clue what your business is. Ideally both an 11-year-old and 70-year-old must understand what you're saying.

Let’s read this statement from Ola, which offers cab-rides that people can book through their mobile phones and is launching electric scooters.

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‘Ola is dedicated to transitioning the world to sustainable mobility and making the world better than we found it.’

It is a very nice sounding line, but what is sustainable mobility? Is it things or people who will constantly keep moving? And if so, won’t they leave some carbon footprint? So how will Ola leave the world better than they found it?

What Ola probably wants to communicate is this:

We will offer consumers electric vehicles for their rides thereby reducing carbon emissions, which is an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels.

This tells the reader how Ola will leave the world a better place by showing them what they intend to do, instead of just telling them about an end goal. Using jargon often raises more questions than it answers. The goal of a communicator is to avoid jargon from creeping into press releases and presentations. By paying attention to how you use language, you can avoid jargon which muddles your message.

Top tip: Catch yourself when you use words that have little or no ability to communicate clearly.

Also read: What’s location got to do with your social media strategy?
Anjana Menon is the co-author of the bestseller 'What's Your Story? The Essential Business-Storytelling Handbook'. She runs her own content strategy firm Content Pixies. Her LinkedIn profile is https://www.linkedin.com/in/contentpixies/ and her twitter handle is @menonanj

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