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Jargon: Abstain or Explain

If your marketing copy, business writing or presentatons are not reaching the intended audience, could your choice of language be to blame?

by Marcia Yudkin

Someone who helps manage a health-maintenance organization says her job involves "migrating" the subscribers. Hmm, my dictionary says that "migrating" is an intransitive verb - one can migrate, but not migrate something else. I don't know what she means.

A vice-president of one of the world's largest consulting companies says she's proud of the firm's ability "to integrate highly granulated information with pragmatic solutions." Now, snow can be granulated, but information - could she be bragging about her adeptness with old data? Unlikely.

Beware of jargon - specialists' lingo - when communicating with general audiences.

Jargon gains currency within an in-group who make up words and expressions to cover special situations and features they often talk about. That in-group, either an industry or just one organization, then often forgets that they made up these expressions and uses them in sales messages directed outside their circle.

Sometimes jargon involves totally new words and phrases, such as "devolutionization" or "partnergenic integration," and sometimes it involves familiar words with new meanings. It may also involve long-established foreign terms, such as "habeas corpus" or "doula." All varieties have the same effect on outsiders.

Puzzled faces represent one vital clue hinting that you might not be getting your message across

Several months ago I told a software marketer that I didn't understand the phrase "rich feature set." His reply: "Sure you do. It means..." I could not get it through his head that that combination of words was not ordinary language.

As I tell this story to business audiences - people who purchase various kinds of software - I always see a lot of puzzled faces when I cite his phrase.

Indeed, puzzled faces represent one vital clue hinting that your language may not be getting your message across. However, because many folks are too polite or intimidated to let on when they hear meaningless nonsense, it's helpful to find members of your target market whom you can trust to be candid and ask them straight out whether they understand what you offer.

Recently, for example, I told a psychologist who'd asked me to look at her brochure that I was familiar with her word "intervention" only in the context of confrontation with drug addicts or alcoholics. That was so far from what she'd intended to convey that she reworded the sentence.

Jargon lovers often protest that eradicating jargon from their marketing materials would alienate insiders who know their buzz words and would come off as condescension. Not at all, I reply. It's not an either/or choice.

For a combination in-the-know and out-of-the-loop audience, you can use jargon and explain it so that you make all readers insiders. When you do this subtly, tucking explanations unobtrusively into sentences, neither the in-group nor the outsiders take offense.

For instance, if you didn't know much about Chinese medicine, you might be put off by a mention of "ch'i." Use the term and explain it, like this: "Acupuncture restores balance and regulates the flow of ch'i - the basic life force." Just four extra words prevent both confusion and insult.

Copyright 2006 Marcia Yudkin. All rights reserved.

Author Marcia Yudkin is the author of 6 Steps to Free Publicity, Persuading on Paper and nine other books. Subscribe to her free weekly newsletter on marketing and business communication, The Marketing Minute, at http://www.yudkin.com/markmin.htm and receive a free bonus booklet containing publicity success tips.

Some Related Articles:

Effective Presentations Make Your Message Stick, Not Your Audience Sick!
Clean Out Your Linguistic Closet
Typo Tales and Tactics
Telltale Signs of Hype
Eight Sales Writing Mistakes
Beware the Red Pen Power Rangers!
To Whom It May Concern
Writing Irresistible Sales Copy: Meeting the Challenge

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