Words on a Page Writings about writing

Dealing with acronyms and jargon

A confused-looking figurine

Jargon. Acronyms. They’re everywhere.

Both have helped bloat the English language and contributed to a level of obfuscation and confusion that’s deeper than an unknown foreign language. In fact, people who overuse jargon and acronyms often sound like they’re speaking a foreign tongue.

As freelance writers, we regularly run into this. I sure do. It doesn’t matter if we’re writing articles or blog posts, or working on a technical or corporate writing gig. We can’t escape jargon or acronyms.

But that doesn’t mean we have to put up with either. We can do a lot to minimize jargon and acronyms, and make what they’re trying to convey clearer for any reader.

Acronyms are, to me, an often misguided attempt at brevity. Jargon conveys the idea that the speaker (or writer) and his/her peers have knowledge and expertise others don’t. But the only way to convey that knowledge and expertise is through clear writing.

The way to do that is to ask one of these (seemingly) simple questions:

  • “What does that mean?”
  • “Can you explain that in plain language?”

I’m notorious for doing that, and have actually been the target of ire for daring to ask those questions. The questions are simple but they have powerful repercussions. They cause the person with whom you’re talking to rethink what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. The questions can show that the person in question doesn’t have the knowledge they think they have.

I’ve known people to tell me Don’t worry, everyone knows what that means. Don’t take that for an answer. Not everyone does. To educate, we need to make things clear. And the only way to do that is to press the person from whom you’re getting information for even more information.

You might find, as I have, that the person you’re talking to can explain jargon or acronyms in a simple, conversational way. They only reason they don’t is because they’re expected to talk in what’s the modern mutation of Orwell’s Doublespeak.

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