Posted by: episystechpubs | July 18, 2014

Editor’s Corner: Some information and opinions on jargon

A common battle exists among different communicators at our company and others. It is the battle of the creative staff, business professionals, and product experts—against us technical writers and editors. Maybe battle is the wrong word. We just have different audiences and different goals in our communication, and one of the times that becomes difficult is when jargon is involved.

The other day I attended a webinar about introverts and extroverts. Several times, the presenter referred to an individual’s personality as their “personal branding.” After barfing a little, I looked at my coworker and asked, “Did she really just say ‘personal branding’?” Why? Why convolute the message with some new, undefined term? Were we to consider her more of an expert in the field of business psychology? There’s already a word in psychology that perfectly describes the way you present yourself to others: persona.

While jargon generally comes about within a certain field so experts can communicate amongst themselves, when you start throwing it out at a broad audience, it tends to push away the people you desire to communicate with. As the provider of the examples below says, jargon should be used “cautiously, infrequently, and at the right times.” The problem is that it is rarely given deep consideration and that sets technical writers on edge. It is our job to communicate difficult ideas clearly and concisely; not to use fluff or abstract terms to increase the vagaries of something. Each type of communication has its place, I know. But today I am talking about technical documentation, so I won’t be responding to hate letters or rants about the sterility of technical documentation and its lack of flowery imagery.

Here are some excerpts from a newsletter on jargon.

Jargon Is No Bargain

Almost a century ago, in 1916, the British author, editor, and literary critic Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944) published On the Art of Writing.The book’s fifth chapter is titled “Interlude: On Jargon.” Quiller-Couch abhorred jargon, a catchall term for pompous, bloated, clumsy, hackneyed, or impenetrable writing.

Quiller-Couch, who wrote under the pen name “Q,” extols “the active verb and the concrete noun.” He deplores “dissolving vivid particulars into smooth generalities.” If writers say what they mean in a strong, clear, direct voice, they can avoid the jargon trap. “Jargon is by no means accurate, its method being to walk circumspectly around its target; and its faith, that having done so it has either hit the bull’s-eye or at least achieved something equivalent, and safer.” …

Q disdains words and phrases such as case, instance, nature, condition, persuasion, degree, as regards, with regard to, in respect of, in connection with. “They are all dodges of Jargon, circumlocutions for evading this or that simple statement: and I say that it is not enough to avoid them nine times out of ten, or nine-and-ninety times out of a hundred. You should never use them.”

Jargon diminishes us not just as writers but as human beings: “If your language be Jargon, your intellect, if not your whole character, will almost certainly correspond. Where your mind should go straight, it will dodge: the difficulties it should approach with a fair front and grip with a firm hand it will be seeking to evade or circumvent.” …

“That is Jargon,” says Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, “and to write Jargon is to be perpetually shuffling around in the fog and cotton-wool of abstract terms.”

And a small selection of business jargon from: This is your invitation to proceed with caution.

· actionable · face time · ping
· back burner · game changer · pushback
· ballpark (as a verb) · hired guns · put to bed
· behind the eight ball · level the playing field · silver bullet
· best practice · leverage · skillset
· brain dump · lost in the sauce · take away
· change agent · low-hanging fruit · value-added
· core competency · micromanage · zero sum game

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

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