Communication, Writing

When to Use Jargon

Jack is a freshman at a large state university. Overall, he is doing okay, but he is struggling with his Introduction to Astronomy course. The professor uses so many scientific terms that the class lectures make no sense to Jack. He tries to teach himself these strange new words outside of class, but it’s tough.

“As soon as I learn one set of terms, the professor starts using new ones,” Jack recently complained. “The textbook for the class is just as bad. It’s like trying to read a foreign language. I just can’t keep up!”

What is jargon?

Jargon is the specialized or technical language used by people in a particular field. It can also include abbreviations, acronyms, and names of certain people or places. In general, jargon is not easily understood by outsiders. Even common words are often used in unusual ways.

If you regularly read this blog, then you have been introduced to some of the jargon used by editors and English teachers. The term “comma splice” would be one example. Another is “tag question“.

Too much jargon can be overwhelming, especially in situations like Jack’s where he is listening to fast-paced lectures as well as reading a textbook that is clearly over his head.

Jargon can be helpful.

If you are working with a group of professionals in the same field, using jargon can be the most efficient way for you to communicate with each other. For example, if you are part of a team of doctors and nurses performing surgery on a patient, you will have a common set of words that you use to describe the procedure, as well as the instruments that you are using.

If you are a student at a university, you will be learning the jargon of your chosen field. When you write papers for your classes, your professors will naturally expect you to use this new vocabulary. It is also likely that you will be reading scholarly journal articles. If you move on to graduate school, you may be writing them as well.

Sometimes it’s better to avoid jargon.

Let’s go back to our example of the medical professionals in the operating room. Jargon is useful and appropriate in that setting. However, jargon would be confusing once the operation is successfully completed and the doctor is explaining the after-care regimen to the patient and his family. In that situation, the doctor needs to communicate in a way that the patient and family members can easily understand. “Keep an eye on the surgical wound and make sure it doesn’t get infected” makes a lot more sense to the average person than “The surgical incision must be monitored for staphylococcus aureus.”

Sometimes different departments within a company aren’t using the same jargon. The legal department might not understand the jargon that the marketing department is using, and vice versa. Even worse, some individuals seem to enjoy showing off how well they know their jargon to the point where they seem to have forgotten how to use common, everyday language!

Does jargon improve communication, or not?

If you are unsure about when and how to use jargon, ask yourself some questions.

1. Are you speaking or writing to professionals in your field who use the same jargon that you use? If so, then feel free to use whatever jargon you deem necessary.

2. Are you teaching students who are just starting to learn the jargon related to their chosen field? In a case like this, you will want to use some jargon (otherwise, they won’t learn it), but go slowly. Introduce a few new terms at a time instead of blasting them with unfamiliar terms the way Jack’s professor does.

3. Are you communicating with people who know some of your jargon, but not all of it? It’s okay to use the familiar, common jargon, but avoid the more obscure or field-specific terms unless you can take the time to explain them.

4. Are you trying to explain something to someone who doesn’t know the jargon at all? Then use words that they can understand. Introduce any necessary jargon slowly.

Basically, if using jargon improves communication, then you should use it. If not, use it sparingly, or not at all.

Here at TextRanch, we encounter all sorts of jargon (medical jargon, business jargon, marketing jargon, legal jargon, and much more) as we work on our customers’ emails and documents. Sometimes, we can figure out the meaning based on the context. In most cases, the errors we need to correct involve ordinary words that come before or after the jargon, rather than the jargon itself.

If you are submitting a business email or a lengthy document that includes any unusual jargon, it is helpful to leave a note for your editor. This is especially true if the jargon doesn’t follow the typical patterns of spelling or grammar. A simple explanation is usually fine, such as “Shoobydoo is the name of a mechanical process. The past tense is shoobydone.”

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