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Avoid Jargon in Your Content So Outsiders Feel Like Insiders

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

Updated 11.16.2023 by Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning content writer, website publisher, and author of 9 books.

Want your content to get read by more people? Avoid jargon. 

Jargon is insider language. It’s that collection of words or expressions that are used by a particular group of enthusiasts or in a profession. You might think of it as a set of verbal shortcuts or niche lingo that’s familiar only to specialists.

Plenty of us are guilty of using jargon-ese. Aerospace engineers are comfortable talking about albedo and ailerons. Meanwhile, auto detailers can’t follow that lingo, but they’re on board when you talk about AIO polish or backing plates. But jargon isn’t limited to professional cliques. Jugglers and classical harpsichordists and skateboarders have their own lingo, too. Every subculture does.

Niche lingo is useful when you’re working on a specialized problem with a select group. You and a few others are on the same page. You can get to the main issue quicker with niche-speak. Plus, you need to use niche jargon when you’re writing academic paper, tech guide, or legal brief. 

But unless you’re addressing a technical issue in your niche, avoid jargon. Clear, readable writing is a mark of quality content.  Jargon hinders clarity. And it’s damaging in other ways, too.

Why should you avoid using jargon?

Jargon confuses readers

You’ve been there: two people begin talking about a common interest (“What kind of topwater plugs did you use to catch that bass?”). You’re the third party and you’re lost.

And while you may find the lingo difficult to follow, you hang in there because it’s the polite thing to do in a social situation. Yet when you’re reading – and you’re unfamiliar with those sanctified terms – then confusion and frustration reign. You click off that content and move onto something else that’s clearer. Avoid jargon in your writing and you'll give the reader a better chance at clarity.

Jargon reveals writer confusion

Truth be told, maybe your content isn’t clear because you struggle to understand the concept you’re trying to communicate. You include geek words because it’s easier to play along.

This is especially tricky territory for faith-based writers. Part of our job is to communicate intangible topics in a tangible way. If it’s easier for you to use words like righteousness and expiation to explain difficult concepts, then take time to wrestle with your understanding and your words. 

Jargon reveals pride

Maybe you’re not confused at all. You’re simply packing in the jargon in order to impress your readers. News flash: unless you’re putting together an in-depth medical study or documents requiring a court’s signature, your readers don’t really care about all those fancy words. They simply want to solve their problem or get an answer to their question. And they don’t want to work too hard to do so.

Jargon alienates readers

Specialty language is part of a subculture. Those outside the group not familiar with those insider terms. When you write using your subculture’s lingo, you alienate outsiders and quickly douse a seeker’s interest. Avoid jargon and they'll feel more at home.

Jargon examples in the faith-based niche

Pick any niche and you can create a quick list of jargon to avoid. I write a good deal in the faith-based space. Like any other niche, we have terms that confuse or alienate readers. And we’re guilty of using Christian-ese out of pride or even when we don’t fully understand the point. 

The last thing I want to do is to turn away a reader because I’m insensitive with words. Here are some jargon examples from this niche that I try to replace, avoid, or explain.

How to avoid jargon

Try these tips.

  • Pretend you’re talking to a kid as you write. In fact, don’t pretend. The lower the grade level, the faster the read. Even insiders who read at higher levels respond better to simpler content . Use grammar check rules in your word processing software and aim for content that’s at an 8th grade reading level or less. 
  • Avoid acronyms. Friends in the military, healthcare, government, and nonprofit organizations: yes, we’re looking at you. I say this because I am one of you. After twenty years of military service I knew that an LES is a Leave and Earnings Statement and that an NCO is a noncommissioned officer. But when I first walked in the door, I was clueless.  
  • Choose a simpler word. If you can replace a three syllable word with a one syllable, do so. Think “use” rather than “utilize.”
  • Get outsider reviews. Ask your grandmother or spouse or walking partner or anyone outside your niche to read your content.
  • Address jargon directly. “In this post, I’ll explain_______. This is a specialty term that means _________.”

The issue with jargon is clear. Write simpler and more outsiders will understand your content. They’ll start to feel like insiders … and they’ll keep reading.

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