Does your reader feel left out?

Style-extremes_JargonIs your writing clear, human, and inclusive? Does it invite the reader in or slam a door in their face? Write like a human being listed three common style mistakes: too formal, too much jargon, or too chatty. We’ve already looked at how to loosen the strangling bow-tie on your prose – next up is The Jargonatorizer.

The take-home here is to socialise your content by mind-wise face-timing your client base to synergize the win-zone going forward.

Erhemm. In other, less fancy-pants words, improve your style by writing the way you would actually speak to your clients.

Jargon excludes the reader. It creates a “cool club”, which you’re in, and they’re not.

The worst thing that jargon does is to exclude the reader. It creates a “cool club”, which you’re in, and they’re not. They don’t already share your expertise, which is why they’re reading your blog or book, so they’re not part of the club. Look at that picture: that’s the Jargonatorizer standing inside, behind the MEMBERS ONLY sign, blathering happily to fellow club members. That’s the reader, standing outside, looking sad. You might be happy with take-home, socialise, mind-wise, face-time, synergize, and win-zone, if that’s your jargon. But how does it feel to be on the outside? Try this: “When you write in complex-compound sentences with a split main clause, gerunds and present participles quickly become confused and you tend to leave dangling modifiers.” And this: “At least since Plato’s Timaeus and its discussion of the khōra, contradiction has served to express the unspeakable. The work that marks, for Hegel, the shift from a mythic to a metaphysical logic, left us also with this unspeakable not-even-thing which we dare not call the opposite of metaphysics, but which fills a compensatory function in relation to it. Revaluing contradiction served Hegel in breaking with the constraints of Kantian metaphysics, his dialectical model offering…” That’s some of my jargon. And unless you also have a background in linguistics, philosophy, and literary theory, I bet you feel left out.

Even if your reader understands the jargon, you want to get rid of it. “Blue-skies thinking…” “Out of the box…” These started as jargon, then became so familiar that they’re now clichés. Clichés are so overly familiar that they just slip over us (water off a duck’s back?) and lack the impact you want your words to have.

What’s more, jargon can end up meaning absolutely nothing. The Independent‘s round-up of the latest jargon quoted this one: ”We’re trying to maximise returns and minimise risks.” Well… DUH. In Write like a human being, I gave the example of a series of business profiles for a website I edited. (For obvious reasons, I can’t quote the original versions!) I waded through thickets of jargon to find the sense within. One sentence, by the time I’d finished translating it, read, “We sell things to people.” Another came out as “We have staff.” Some other jargonatorized examples of meaninglessness: “He successfully tuned the group entities to operate synergistically while competing with one another”, “strategic business goals”, “positive interpersonal relationship”, “spearhead transformational initiatives”.

So jargon makes the reader feel left out, lacks impact, and can mean nothing. Why do we use it? First, some jargon is very useful: a single word for a complex set of ideas. “Intersectionality” refers to a complex set of ideas about how all your identities (male/female, gay/straight, trans/cis, race, etc) affect each other. If you’re writing about identity politics, you will need that word. Likewise, you can’t write about sales payscales without the term OTE; you can’t discuss creativity without explaining what “process” and “product” mean in that context. Before you unleash any of the jargon, though, think very hard: do I really need this bit of jargon? Can I put it in other, more familiar words? Choose the terms you do need very carefully and explain them. Care about your reader: carry them with you.

Second, we use jargon because we like tribes and we use language to create tribes. It’s the same thing as kids using slang at school. It makes us feel like we belong – but by doing that, it makes the reader feel they don’t belong. It’s the Cool Club in action. Like overly formal language, it’s a way to mask insecurity: “Look! I really know my stuff – I’ve got all the language down pat! I’m part of the club!” Don’t impress the reader by showing off at their expense. Impress them by genuinely knowing your stuff and being the one person who explained it in a way they could understand.

Commit to making the reader’s understanding your highest priority.

If you’re prone to jargon, find a good friend in a completely different field who you can explain your work to: you’ll have to avoid the jargon. Get a good editor who will advocate for the reader. And commit to making the reader’s understanding your highest priority. You’re not inviting them to the hostile members-only Cool Club: you’re starting your own, open-door, much cooler club.


For help with your writing, get an editorial critique of your work so far or start the Springboard coaching programme to launch your book plans.

One thought on “Does your reader feel left out?

  1. Pingback: Does your writing chatter too much? | Thought Leader Books: The Blog

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