The business world is inundated with jargon—and its effects can range from merely annoying to completely obscuring the meaning of something. Some people rely too heavily on jargon in their writing. And because it’s easy to use—trendy catchphrases you’ve picked up from others—you may find yourself inserting it in your own writing. However, jargon lacks preciseness and informative value. Therefore, it’s necessary to have a firm grasp of when and how to use jargon in business writing appropriately.
What Is Jargon?
Jargon can be defined as:
- Technical terminology used by a group (g., lawyers, doctors)
- Characteristic idioms used by a particular group
- Obscure, pretentious speech (someone trying to impress you with long words)
To better understand what the word implies, check out these examples of jargon used in a sentence:
- The article used medical jargon that patients found difficult to understand.
- The student peppered her academic essay with jargon.
- Congress filled the bill with obscure jargon making it nearly impossible to understand.
Having a clear definition of what jargon means is essential. Knowing when and how to use jargon in business writing is even more critical.
When Is it Appropriate to Use Jargon?
There’s a time and place for everything… even jargon. For instance, your audience will determine whether or not you will use it. When writing to a person or group who use group-specific terminology (e.g., writing an internal memo for senior medical staff or the head of an academic writing department), then in-group jargon is acceptable and likely expected.
If you are writing detailed instructions on how to do something, you may need to use jargon specific to your industry. For example, let’s say you are writing a blog for a concrete construction company’s website. Your readers are likely those in the trade. In this case, you would be expected to use the correct industry jargon. For example:
“Your goal is to achieve a hard burnished slab.”
But for a more general audience (perhaps writing for a home improvement website covering multiple topics), you could phrase it like this:
“Your goal is to achieve a hard burnished slab (the slab has a black finish on it where the pores of the concrete have been sealed, resulting in a super smooth finish).”
How to Use Jargon in Business Writing
Always explain unfamiliar terms or industry-specific jargon. Try to evaluate your audience’s ability to comprehend the terms. Failing to do so will damage any common ground you hope to achieve and weaken your credibility. So, as you write, go back and reread the copy. Identify any jargon you used. Is it really necessary? Or would substituting the words or phrase prove more beneficial to this audience? When in doubt, leave it out.
If you are writing to an audience comprised of those who would understand industry-specific jargon, consider using it. However, if the audience is split between those who readily understand the terminology with those who would be clueless, leave it out. Substitute words and speech that will be more easily digestible to the entire group. If you do need to employ jargon, consider adding a brief explanation such as this:
“When formatting a CV (curriculum vitae—a professional medical doctor’s resume), follow our style guide to enter professional, academic, and extracurricular achievements in the proper order.”
What to Avoid When Using Jargon
Jargon can obscure the meaning of what you are trying to convey. And do not use jargon in a vain attempt to impress others. Doing so can detract from your message.
Avoid using jargon when it is vague—fluff, no real substance—and doesn’t add any valuable information. This is especially true when you need to give instructions or direction to someone. Excessive use of jargon can also intimidate the reader. (“I feel stupid for not knowing what that phrase means… Great! Now I have to go look up that word too! Who wrote this memo? Shakespeare?”)
Your goal is to inform, not to confuse or embarrass.
Jargon to Ditch
Just because jargon is popular doesn’t mean you should use it. Consider these two examples:
Example 1: “I need you to think outside the box.”
This is simply lazy writing. It is imprecise and vague. Instead, state your goal in more detail. Try this:
“I need you to come up with a way to handle this problem that we haven’t tried before. We have to stay on budget and stick to our original schedule. But is there a way to do so and find an alternate method of delivering the product?”
Example 2: “I’m a results-oriented individual and will give 110% to the company.”
These two phrases are usually seen on job applications, resumes, and CVs. “Results-oriented” is overused and often misunderstood. Any action you perform is going to achieve some sort of result. Why state the obvious? And 110%? Unless there are two of you, you can only give 100%. Instead of relying on unprofessional jargon to speak for you, say it yourself. Like this:
“When I am working for a client, I dedicate 100% of my attention and effort to achieve our shared goal—success.”
So, it’s up to you to determine whether or not you will use jargon in your business writing. Doing so can be tricky. However, the key to success is knowing when and how to do so correctly.