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A Strong Case Against Jargon

6 Aug, 2019 Kayla LeFevre Creativity

My entire copywriting career, I’ve heard all these empty words just thrown around and seen an entire audience nod in agreement and even clap in many cases. But what were they clapping at? If you actually listened to the speaker, I mean really listened, they were saying the equivalent of feel-good aspirational posters with cute kittens hanging off wires.

The AP Stylebook even says to “avoid jargon,” and to “include an explanation of any words likely to be unfamiliar to most readers.” And yes, I’ve also heard how using jargon reassures your audience that you understand them. But I’m here to tell you that when you insist on using buzzwords in your content, you’re not answering the basic principles of writing: the who, the what and the how. 

Here, let me elaborate:

It doesn’t speak to the “who.”

We call them “industry terms,” but the reality is that a lot of industries use the same buzzwords. And there are a lot of niche pockets of professions within each industry. Take digital marketing, for example: that’s a pretty broad term that covers everyone who has anything to do with services over the internet, which is basically everyone these days.

You have social media managers, paid advertising, SEO management, copywriting, web design, web development – yes, they’re all different, but they all fall under “digital marketing” nonetheless. So using a buzzword like “conversion funnel,” then every professional will hear that and understand through their own lens.

But by addressing everyone, you’re not addressing anyone at all. And worst of all, you sound exactly like your competitors. You’re not unique, you’re not speaking to the individual need and you’re not standing apart from all the buzzing noise. Not to mention, you’re creating an impersonal connection to your reader by changing them from a “reader” who’s a person to a “lead” that’s just a faceless source of income. And having impersonal copy is not a great way to make a connection.   

It doesn’t solve the “what.”

If your audience really does understand your industry, then they probably already know what they should do. So what value are you bringing to the table? 

When people are looking for a solution, they’re usually looking for something they never even thought about before. But just like the vague audience of “who” you’re addressing, when you throw in too many technical terms, you’re not helping your readers understand what it is that you do.

Let’s just take one of the digital marketing industry’s favorite buzzwords and break it down: lead generation. What does that mean? It means you create a certain amount of content in one form or another and figure out the best places to leave that content like a trail of breadcrumbs.

Now, that’s a very broad sense of the term. But when you force yourself to avoid using broad-stroke terms that you assume everyone understands, you’re forcing yourself to truly think about what your readers’ needs are to begin with.

It doesn’t answer the “how.”

Using a string of buzzwords can sound nice when slurred together. But it often says what the result is without ever explaining how you’ll get there.

Creating a “lead generation” strategy for the eCommerce client means finding the right add placement or better yet, creating hashtags for new customers to naturally stumble upon. But what about a non-profit organization? Maybe a hashtag would work, but collaborating with like-minded foundations and maybe even some print collateral might be more effective.

If you really know your industry, then you’ll know how to answer how you get your results.

Ultimately, by avoiding jargon in your company’s copy, you’re elevating your content and creating a better experience for your customers. And isn’t that what a good business should be doing?

Now, before you think I’m just trying to pick on you, keep in mind that I’m far from the only one out there who believes jargon should be avoided. Elevator Pitch co-founder Andy Craig also agrees with me as he told Fast Company in 2014: “It’s easier and lazier to say, ‘We’re the leading provider of mission-critical seamless solutions that optimize, monetize, and operationalize your business’ than it is to come up with that drop-dead simple explanation that anyone can understand.”

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