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Avoiding Jargon

Jargon is a classic sign of bad writing when communicating to general audiences. Since ASU publications are to be written to professional standards, and we want our messages to connect in ways that are easy to understand, communicators should avoid jargon at all costs.

Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines jargon as: 1) confused, unintelligible language; 2) the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group; or 3) obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words.

Here are some tips for rehabilitating your writing practices in this area:

  • If the source can’t come up with a good explanation in lay terms, rely on your dictionary and reputable online sources to explain the concept. Can you explain it to your mother, grandmother or uncle Jimmy?

  • Leave it out if it is not essential to the story.

  • Make the definition of any necessary jargon short, clear and understandable to readers.

  • Explain jargon with examples. The classic example is a measurement of micrometers or nanometers compared to the thickness of human hair. That gives readers a mental image of the scale you want to convey.

  • Read the piece aloud from the position of a reader. It will hit your ear, even if it doesn’t hit your eye.

  • Know your audience. Stories for Insight go to largely an educated audience, but articles should be written for a general audience, too. News releases should be written like news stories. Newspapers write to a sixth-grade reading level.

  • Avoid acronyms, especially those used on campus. They mean nothing to an audience outside of ASU. On second reference, use the official abbreviation for the academic unit. Or, use "the school," "the college," etc., on second reference.

  • Academic degrees and certifications are something to be proud of, but many people have no idea what these initials stand for. If a degree or certification is relevant to the story, refer to it in a way that readers understand: "Beihl, who has a doctorate in physics…"

  • Use analogies to explain hard-to-grasp topics.

This page was last modified on October 12, 2012