Jargon

Academic Coach writes about jargonized writing.

Simpler is better. But jargon—if used correctly—simplifies the writing. In my field, certain phrases and words have specific technical meanings, so that using them saves the writer from having to re-explain some idea or computation that everyone you are writing for already knows. I would even argue that the scope of the jargon defines the audience.

That being said, a lot of writers use jargon not to simplify, but instead use fancy words to make an idea seem more sophisticated. It may also indicate that I am not in the target audience for the writing. In that case, I will just ignore the writing and the ideas contained in it. That’s the cost of the jargon; since the article should be meant to persuade someone, the jargon has reduced the size of the audience.

Perhaps the test might be: explain it in five sentences for your grandmother. If jargon shortens it and simplifies the writing and a first or second year PhD student can follow what you write, then use the jargon. If such a student doesn’t get what you are saying, cut the jargon.

Thinking about it that way, being penalized for doing popular writing perhaps indicates something about the technical level of the material—and that is what tenure committees and outside letter writers are worried about. Popularizing an existing idea is not generating new knowledge. But I thought scholarship was generating new knowledge. Explaining existing knowledge is a valuable activity, but that is different than research.

*Last paragraph my be full of cr*p—I am not sure here.*

(Also written so I could try to do a trackback.)

One response to “Jargon

  1. Excellent points and questions.

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