When Lingo Doesn’t Land: Avoiding Jargon in Content Strategy
Jargon is more common than you think
Team meetings and cubicle chatter often overflow with jargon – even when employees don’t realize it. Some lingo is so engrained into workplace culture that it no longer even rings as jargon. “Circling back” to a “disruptor” concept in the “parking lot” when you have more “bandwidth” to “move the needle” might make sense to some but comes across as corporate gibberish to others.
Most industries have phrases with meanings that fit a particular business or job. That jargon is typically associated with a set work environment and used by specific groups of people. It differs from broader slang, which is used more casually.
It covers a lot of territory since many forms of language can be used as jargon.
- Acronyms → ASAP
- Metaphors → Boil the ocean
- Figures of speech → Cutting edge
- Borrowed terms → Deep dive
- Idioms → Call the shots
- Cliches → Low-hanging fruit
Are there any benefits to jargon?
At times, industry jargon can be useful or efficient. For the proper audience, it can remove a need for background explanations by using terms they’re already familiar with. It can act as shorthand for quicker understanding (and less chance of mistakes, as in the case of the NATO phonetic alphabet).
Jargon may indicate that the speaker belongs to a specific community, so using it can build credibility or demonstrate industry know-how. It can break down complicated subjects and get to a point sooner.
However, jargon is only an asset for the right audience if used sparingly. If jargon succeeds, it’s due to mutual understanding: someone takes the time to explain its meaning, or it’s used so frequently that the meaning is gradually understood in action.
When does jargon become a problem?
Jargon can create confusion
Unfamiliar terms or coded language can give the impression that if you don’t “get” it, you don’t belong. In crowded jargon-filled sentences, your expertise will be lost if the audience doesn’t get the messaging. At worst, it can complicate understanding, increase cognitive load, or even scare your users.
Jargon-rich content makes readers translate and interpret the information. And frustration will spike – why would users keep going if they need clarification on your content?
Jargon can erode brand authenticity
Sometimes, jargon is more of a status signal. In a Columbia-USC joint study, speakers who used more jargon terminology were more likely to have higher levels of anxiety about their roles or status in their environment. They were also more likely to opt for jargon-like terms instead of plainer descriptions to seem more experienced.
At a point, this desire to impress overrides sharing actual knowledge. Overusing jargon instead of choosing simpler terms dilutes content of real meaning that could resonate with more users. From a brand perspective, it can come across as disingenuous or detached.
Writing without relying on jargon
Know how your users speak and what resonates with them. Think about how you’d explain an approach for a website redesign very differently to a seasoned interactive designer than you would to your grandma.
Besides, consider a user’s expectations while interacting with your content. Are they looking for a quick answer to a time-sensitive question, and you’re serving long, buzzword-filled paragraphs?
Ultimately, if you can’t describe your topic in layperson’s terms for different levels of comprehension, you may not understand it as well as you think.
Suggestions for avoiding jargon in content strategy
Get a second pair of eyes (virtual or physical)
Find a review engine to skim content for appropriate reading levels, like Hemingway, Grammarly, or the Fleisch-Kincaid score. For real-world feedback, ask a partner who knows your targeted audience to review content for relevance.
Incorporate contextual help options
Contextual help features use additional copy to explain body text without interrupting the main content. These features can show on click or hover, revealing supplemental details like definitions, real-world examples, or formulas. If jargon must be used, this added context can be essential.
Note potential jargon
When possible, substitute everyday language instead of jargon as often as you can. Consider making a list of acceptable synonyms for a word or phrase, including both technical and everyday terms, with use cases for either.
You can also write different versions of content that covers the same general topic but for different knowledge levels. Having variations of content ensures you share core information where it’s most effective for different audiences.
Incorporate real-world examples
Instead of abstract theories, try realistic analogies or use cases to anchor users. Real-world examples often go beyond specific industries and resonate with broader audiences, without relying on jargon. They provide relatable situations that users can understand and envision on their own.
Conduct a copy audit
During a copy audit, search for commonly used words in your content to see which ones hit the mark for clarity. Replace terms that may be too confusing or distinct with more meaningful alternatives.
Customer listening reviews can further reveal the words that your audience uses organically. See what you can incorporate into brand content to speak their language.
Include a glossary section
Simple, but valuable! Glossaries explain complex or unfamiliar terms for users seeking it out while also providing beneficial SEO.
Content that connects
A strong content strategy is rooted in providing the right content to the right audience. Removing unnecessary or confusing jargon helps ensure that your users can better understand your content. Reach out to start a conversation (free of jargon!) about developing compelling content with Velir.