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When Writing Jargon, Think Like a Reader


As a business writer, your main job should always be to connect with your readers.

It doesn’t matter what the topic is. It doesn’t matter how long the copy in question is. It doesn’t matter whether your intended audience has or doesn’t have the same level of expertise that you do.

As a business writer, your main job should always – always – be to connect with your readers.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

I fully recognize that, so far, this advice sounds like obvious common sense. However, there’s another layer to it that’s a little more tricky.

Perhaps it’s going to sound just as obvious in theory. But putting it into practice is much more difficult than many writers understand.

We stated above that it doesn’t matter whether your intended audience has – or doesn’t have – the same level of expertise that you do when it comes to your need to connect with them. And that’s true.

But it does matter when it comes to the vocabulary you reference: your business jargon.

Business jargon – the lingo you and your colleagues use to discuss the ins and outs of what you do – no doubt comes natural to you. Particularly if you’ve been in the business saying that jargon for a while.

I know that, in my line of work, I might have a debate with another editor over the Oxford comma. That’s editorial jargon right there that can oftentimes leave others going, “Ummm… huh?”

Of course, if they’re not part of the conversation, then oh well. They can deal.

But what if they are? Isn’t it rude not to let them know what’s going on?

And what if my fellow editor and I are discussing a project these other people need to be involved in? Isn’t it foolish not to let them know what’s going on?

I’d say the answer for both questions is a definite yes. And the same applies to writing.

When writing for readers outside of your normal professional scope, assume they’re not on the same page as you.

This does mean you have to explain whatever jargon you write down. But that doesn’t have to be as tedious as you may think.

Take our aforementioned Oxford comma, as referenced again in the paragraph below. We’ll say it’s for an article titled, “When Dating an Editor, Here’s What You’ll Want to Know”:

Editors can get very passionate about seemingly silly subjects, such as the Oxford comma – a comma that goes between the last two items in a written list (i.e., carrots, celery, and onions). Some insist on using them; others think they’re pointless.

And there’s no reasoning with either side most days.

They’re also known to stress out for minutes on end about whether to insert a particular word into a sentence… or opt for a so-close-it’s-practically-the-same-thing synonym instead. In other words, they’re slightly insane.

Did you see how that worked? A dash – or a comma or a colon – and a quick explanation inside a set of parentheses is all it likely takes.

Also, if you’re in an abbreviation or acronym-heavy profession, don’t automatically expect people to know what they stand for. Write the whole term out the first time, follow it up by the shortened version. Like this:

Lower back pain (LBP) can be caused by a number of factors, including poor posture.

After that first reference, you can use the shortened version to your abbreviated heart’s content.

I know it’s easy to forget about these details considering how engrained they are in your memory. But when you’re writing for readers outside of your field, you have to think like them. Not like you.

Otherwise, they’re just not going to stay your readers for long.

#writingjargon