Posted by: episystechpubs | April 23, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Incompatible Jargon

The advantage of jargon is that it simplifies communication between people with a shared body of knowledge. For example, instead of telling another editor to “capitalize nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs,” I can say, “Use title case.”

The disadvantage of jargon is that it can be incomprehensible to people outside of your group. In the worst-case scenario, a jargon term means one thing to one group of people and something completely different to another group.

Different Definitions of Combo Box

In my post about combo boxes, I defined combo box as a user interface element that allows users to select a value from a list or enter another value that isn’t listed. My definition was similar to the definition in the Microsoft® Manual of Style: “a box in which the user can select an item from a list or type a value directly in the box.”

The Microsoft Manual of Style describes how to document the Windows® interface for users. But in a different context (documenting the .NET framework for programmers), Microsoft suggests that not all combo boxes allow the user to type a value directly in the box: “The DropDownStyle property specifies whether the text portion can be edited.”

Oracle® similarly refers to “uneditable combo boxes” in their Java™ documentation. I would not be surprised if various other groups of programmers had other definitions of combo box.

Avoid Jargon If You Can; Define It If You Can’t

To different people, knowledgeable in their respective fields, combo box has a different meaning. As I wrote in my original post, it is not worth using a potentially confusing term when it’s not necessary.

If you must use jargon (or any possibly unfamiliar term), define it the first time you mention it. That’s the only way you can be sure you and the reader are speaking the same language.

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
8985 Balboa Avenue | San Diego, CA 92123
619-682-3391 | or ext. 763391 | www.Symitar.com

Symitar Documentation Services

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