Jargon – persuading your clients to ditch their special words

Chainsaw Training

I’ve just been wrestling with copy that’s so thickly coated with toxic jargon that I’ve had to wear a haz-chem suit just to get near it.

I’ve been working through it slowly, battering sludgy phrasing into sleek, efficient copy that everyone can understand. And then I happened to Tweet about it.

Clive Andrews asked me how I go about de-jargoning my clients’ copy. After I explained that I just use a mixture of judicious deletions and sensible replacements, Clive asked how I remove jargon without offending my clients. After all, jargon is often industry-specific lingo that helps to exclude outsiders by mystifying simple concepts unite groups by giving them a shared vocabulary, and people get quite attached to their ‘special words’.

Persuading clients to ditch jargon

When I’m trying to encourage clients to accept my pruned and de-jargoned copy, I simply insist that clear copy sells, while jargon confuses. I never suggest that jargon is bad because I don’t like it.

Jargon is bad because it puts a thick blanket of stupid between your words and your reader. Using jargon is like hanging curtains over road signs.

My other trick for getting clients on the anti-jargon bandwagon is to get other people to do the arguing for me. So if I’m working with a few people in an organisation, I’ll suggest that jargon is probably hampering our goals and then ask the group for their thoughts.

This strategy is a gamble, because I’m just hoping that my colleagues will argue against the jargon. Luckily, they usually do.

An earlier blog post about jargon.

Thanks to Clive Andrews for his questions.


  1. Thanks so much for your insight, Leif.

    I think some dedicated fans of jargon use it with the best of intentions. It demonstrates knowledge of their specialist subject and, as you say, gives people a shared vocabulary within their professional group.

    This is fine when they’re communicating between themselves, but if the outside world needs to understand, there can be issues.

    I like your point about working with people to find the best way to explain ideas, rather then fighting a lone battle against jargon.

    Thanks again for your ideas.

    Comment by Clive Andrews — November 2, 2009 @ 8:51 pm

  2. Hi Clive, you’re absolutely right – and I don’t mind industry-specific jargon that specialists use as short-cuts when communicating with each other.

    The jargon I really loathe is the generalised management speak which is so prevalent. Management speak is truly awful and only complicates our world, while bringing no real benefits.

    Comment by Leif Kendall — November 3, 2009 @ 10:19 am

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