The dos and don’ts of using tech jargon
Familiarity breeds acronyms and shorthand. But sometimes, using lots of specialized jargon isn’t the best way to get your point across. In this article, Nathan Rawlins explains the pros and cons of using tech jargon too much.
We’re all prone to using jargon around the office from time to time, perhaps because it’s easier or just makes us feel smarter. But is using jargon always the smartest choice? It can get awfully confusing, especially when used interchangeably between industries. We in tech are perhaps the most guilty—after all, we love to talk about “moving the needle” and “dogfooding” our new products.
Jargon has its appropriate place and time, but you should be aware of these guidelines when you’re considering throwing a few of these terms around.
- Know your audience. Obviously, this tip is always good writing practice, but knowing your audience is a must if you’re using industry jargon. If you’re speaking to a general audience, it’s best to avoid jargon. Chances are you’ll just confuse people and your message will get lost. If you’re speaking to a more niche group, jargon used appropriately can help set you apart as an expert. Remember, you never want to overdo it.
- Provide context. Even when you are writing or speaking to a smaller, industry-specific group, don’t automatically assume everyone will understand your jargon upfront. Provide enough context in the sentence so that the meaning still comes across if someone isn’t familiar with the jargon. Industries introduce new jargon constantly—it can be tough to keep up.
- Connect with a community. Using jargon appropriately can help you connect with a certain community and establish trust. It shows you are familiar with that particular group or industry and that you belong within it. But remember that misusing jargon will have the exact opposite effect. Check out message boards, Reddit, industry blogs and other resources to see what jargon is commonly used in a particular industry.
- Test your jargon. Try out your jargon before it’s spread to the masses. Send it to a few colleagues whom you trust and know will provide honest feedback. Better safe than sorry.
- Use jargon across languages. Jargon doesn’t always translate well. Using jargon for materials that will be produced in various languages can result in content that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
- Use jargon with family and friends. Jargon is designed for groups of people who share common activities, professions or interests—not for everyday conversation. If you start throwing out industry jargon left and right with friends or family, it might just come across as annoying or frustrating.
- Complicate your message. Sometimes jargon can simplify concepts, but it also has the ability to dramatically over-complicate them as well. Think carefully about whether the jargon will convey your message succinctly or make your audience work harder to understand.
- Overuse it. If you decide to use jargon, don’t go too crazy. Packing your content with jargon can result in your audience spending more time trying to translate your message than they do actually thinking about it.
- Adopt language you don’t understand. We’ve all heard stories of people who thought “LOL” meant “lots of love.” Make sure that you understand the common meaning of a buzzword before you go trying to use it.
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If you’ve read the dos and don’ts and decided it is appropriate to include jargon, make sure you have the necessary resources to ensure you use it correctly (remember the last point under “Don’t”). Lucidchart offers a handy guide on tech jargon to help you determine what tech terms to use in a given situation—glossary included. Even the most non-tech savvy individual can be talking like a pro about “deep dives,” “ecosystems” and “drinking the Kool-Aid” with this creative video and flowchart.