I hate it when people use a more complicated words when a simpler one will do the trick. An example I find particularly piercing is when people say ‘utilize’ when ‘use’ could easily do the trick. Often, it’s done just to sound more sophisticated though, once I realized this, the word ‘use’ started to sound more sophisticated!
Along these lines, a couple days ago, the Ottawa Citizen published an article referencing a Science editorial about how terrible jargon is. The first line of the Citizen article–the lede in journalist jargon–says it all:
One of the world’s top academic journals is begging scientists to speak plain English — or German, or Chinese — instead of the “insane newspeak” of jargon that’s only used for showing off.
So, you’d think I’d be totally on board with this. Jargon is used for showing off but it’s far cry from being “only used for showing off”. Both the writer of the Citizen article and the Science editorial recognize the existence of an important problem but the wrong one.
Jargon, acronyms and abbreviations all have a very important role to play in science writing and communication. Used properly, they can relate a complicated idea to someone in one word rather than in two paragraphs. The problem isn’t the existence of jargon but that some scientists’–or any class of specialists really–inability to recognize when their audience can’t match the jargon with the definition.
In a scientific journal–especially one with an expensive paywall–the target audience is other people who are specialists in the field. I don’t see any problem using jargon people with a similar background will understand. The problem starts when these scientists talk to the press of give a presentation to a general audience and use the same jargon.
I still think scientific articles should be accessible to the general public but rather than making the article itself more accessible to the public, it should be accompanied by a lay-summary detailing how the study was done and its main results and implications. That way, a more detailed understanding of the research is still available in the scientific article to those who want to do a bit of background reading in order to understand it.
I’m sure everyone reading this either works or is interested in a field where they use jargon that other people might not understand. If you’re good at communicating you recognize what jargon people will understand and which they won’t.
Now I’m just have to go back and reread this post to make sure I didn’t use any jargon…
(Via: @dgardner; comic used with permission from Dave’s Stupid Web Comic)