Dealing with Acronyms and Jargon

7 December, 2022

Jargon. Acronyms. They’re everywhere. Sometimes, I think using them is an excuse not to think or for someone to seem in the know or even profound.

Jargon and acronyms 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. Or just speaking in tongues …

If you work as a technical writer, or even just in a corporate setting, you’re assaulted by jargon and acronyms. Worse, you can’t seem to escape those jargon or acronyms.

But that doesn’t mean you have to put up with either. You can do a lot to minimize the amount of jargon and the number of acronyms that crop up in what you write. By doing so, you can make what they’re trying to convey clearer for any reader. Or just for you.

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. A cabal of wizards trying to keep their secrets from prying eyes, if you will.

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:

I’m notorious for doing that, and have actually been the target of ire for have the temerity 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 you’re interviewing doesn’t have all of the knowledge that 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, you 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.

Scott Nesbitt