Writing Tips at GarySpeer.com

Tips for writers and musing about writing and life

Beware of jargon in your writing; use only as needed

It’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned “jargon,” so I thought it about time to put together a brief reminder: Avoid using jargon in your writing, except when it’s necessary.

“Jargon” may be loosely defined as language that belongs to a particular group, profession, or activity. So using it becomes necessary when you’re communicating with someone who understands the particular jargon you’re using.

For example, think about the commentators at the current Winter Olympics events (I am writing this about half way through the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics) and about the way they describe the various events. Think about some of the Olympians’ equipment and training techniques, as well as technical standards being used to evaluate their performances.

As a non-winter sports guy, I know what a “luge” is only in rudimentary fashion. It’s a one-person sled driven with the rider lying on his/her back and using a good push off combined with good old gravity to whiz 90-plus miles per hour down an icy funnel toward the bottom of a mountain. The whole process involves all sorts of technical skills and equipment that would be totally obscure to me even if explained. (I don’t even know what “luge” means, unless it’s some European language for “insane, outrageously expensive sled of death.”)

If someone were to tell me the exact process of training and competing in the luge, they probably wouldn’t make any more sense to me than “quick trim burn & cleanse” makes to my everyday eating and diet habits.

You get the point, I’m sure. If you want to discuss couples’ ice skating performances at the same Winter Olympics, please don’t rattle off stuff about “triple something something jumps,” or “double compulsory something something lifts.” Just say, “Wow, that was amazing,” or “Oops! I’ll bet that messed up jump and roll across the ice when she landed really hurt their chances.”

Okay, of course I realize broadcasting the Olympics demands a certain amount of descriptive jargon and techno-babble for those who really do understand all that. But in your normal writing, stay away from jargon when you don’t need jargon.

Remember that well-worn cliche — “KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid” — for most of your writing and you’ll do fine.