Ridding the World of Useless Jargon

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One of advertising’s greatest figures — and a professional hero of mine — once said that “our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.”

Mr. Ogilvy was right, and his words still ring true today.

Why do we fall back on jargon? Are we insecure about our own knowledge of a product or process? Are we afraid to admit we may not be experts in every corner of the known world? Are we convinced our twenty-dollar words will hypnotize the reader?

As a copywriter, I’m always torn between the message and the method — namely, how are we sharing information and, more importantly, how are we making it real for the end user?

An English teacher once told me: “Don’t be afraid to write a one-sentence paragraph.”

That was better advice than I realized at the time.

So here’s my shortlist for ensuring that your message is clear, simple and jargon-free:

  • “To whom am I speaking?” Does your message sound like it came from a person or a computer? Natural is the key.
  • “Where’s the dictionary?” Would a reader understand your point with no context or background? Always define acronyms and complex industry-specific terms.
  • “Who cares?” If your message is truly worth sharing, it will appeal to those beyond your specific audience. Read it over one more time and ask yourself honestly if the so-called “man on the street” would be interested.

No matter how technical or complicated a product or process may be, it’s always important to find that kernel of truth — that shared human experience — that makes any message accessible, relatable and actionable.

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