To All Big Mouths: Junk the Jargon and Write in Plain English by Brian Scott

Jargon is a specialized writing style often abused by big business, certain trade industries in the legal and medical fields, federal and state governments, and institutes of education. Jargon contains "workshop words," vague figures of speech, hackneyed expressions, and pompous writing that communicators use obsessively to communicate with their peers and colleagues. Many communicators who are recipients of such jargon-wretched writing often complain about struggling to understand the written work's meaning.

Jargon creates wordiness in a document. Wordiness often creates confusion. Confusion leads to a lack of understanding. Overuse of passive voice, using bigger words instead of simpler synonyms, and lack of specifics contribute to jargon. Too much jargon in a document is said to "muddy its meaning" because readers have trouble understanding its true purpose.

Perhaps you've seen these types of jargon:
Legalese: pursuant to, failure to comply with, forthwith, in the event of, heretofore.
Business Jargon: core competency, all hands on deck, let's circle back, think outside the box.
If jargon muddies the meaning of a document, then why don't communicators avoid jargon altogether? A single answer cannot fully resolve this question. Some reasons include:
  1. a lack of genuine writing ability,
  2. copying the style of other bad writers,
  3. a failure to understand the education and reading level of their target audience, or
  4. just pure laziness to edit and condense their writing.
Many communicators prefer a verbose writing style because they believe they sound more intelligent, especially if writing to colleagues in their field. Indeed, they seem to write for their egos instead of for their readers. These jargon-jolly communicators believe that if they use simpler words then they are "dumbing down" their writing, and therefore, sound stupid. This is untrue, of course.

Writers who have embraced the Plain Writing Act (est. 2010) to renew and refresh their writing skills now understand the role of words in today's fast-paced world: to convey ideas simply and clearly to readers. Known as plain English writing, it is a style of writing that eradicates jargon and verbose words. The focus is on the reader and conveying the message and the importance of the document. Not only does plain English writing create clear communication, but the results are more effective at grabbing and keeping readers' interest. When readers do not have to pause constantly to grasp a word or feel lost in the clutter of hackneyed expressions, their brains are more receptive to keep reading and learning what the document is communicating.

(Read my 24 Plain English Writing Rules to understand the most important rules of plain English writing).

To write concisely and meaningfully for your readers, always evaluate your sentences. Could you convey the same idea in six to ten words, instead of fifteen or more words? Yes, most likely. One rule of plain English writing is that you double-check each word to make sure it adds value to the document; if it doesn't, you eliminate it.

Look at these wordy words and their simpler equivalents:
  • due to the fact that = because
  • enclosed herewith = enclosed
  • for the purpose of = to
Your choice of words influence both the voice of the written work and the readers' understanding of it. Clear, uncomplicated language matches the writer's voice, the subject matter, and the readers.

The ideal method to prevent jargon is to know your audience. Can they read and understand what you are writing? If you have a gut feeling that a word or phrase might cause confusion, substitute it with a better word. You can always find a better way to word a sentence if you are patient and thorough in editing your work. A "better word" does not necessarily mean a shorter word; it means a "more effective word."

To help you use simpler equivalents to wordy words in your document, I have created three free infographics called, "In Plain English, Please!" which you can view or download.

- Brian Scott