Jargon is defined as, “The technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group.” Simply put, it’s any word or phrase that loses or changes meaning when you use it with people who aren’t in your field. Below are some ways to identify and avoid jargon.
- Would a 9th grader understand you? Jargon is field specific. If your next-door neighbor, your grandmother, or your friend from high school can’t understand what you’re talking about, rephrase your message.
- Do others know what that acronym means? As scientists, we have all sat through talks loaded with acronyms that were never explained; however, we can usually understand the gist of the message. Think about how individuals with non-scientific backgrounds would receive your message. Acronyms can be a helpful time saver but also alienate your audience, so best to just reduce/avoid altogether.
- Does this word have multiple meanings? How about different meanings for scientists and public?
- How many syllables are in that word? Geomorphology? Nope. Hydrostatic equilibrium? Never heard of it. Long, complicated words in science are often necessary. But, there are ways to say what you mean without sounding like you’re speaking another language.
- What should I say? There is almost always a less-technical way to say things. See below for some examples.
- I need these words. I can explain them! Maybe you can but that’s not the point. Your audience isn’t your classroom. They’re there to learn, yes, but shouldn’t have to spend time learning phrases that will then allow them to learn.
- Audiences don’t respond well to jargon. Even if you can explain your jargon, your audience will likely be less engaged. Check out this article that talks about the downfalls of using jargon in the education realm.
- But there is no other way to say it! Yes there is. As an exaggerated example, xkcd explained the Saturn V rocket schematic using only the 1000 most common words used in the English language. Use this activity as an exaggerated examples of a way to simplify your own message.
- Keep is simple. Keep it light. At the end of the day, you want people to be receptive to your message. Loading it down with big, complicated words and phrases will not help that goal. Don’t think of it as “dumbing down” your science; think of it as “expanding your audience”.