You’ve Got to be Kidding Me!

Some musings on plain language by Deborah Bosley, Firehead’s own plain language course instructor.

I was sitting in my ophthalmologist’s office getting my eyes checked. She asked, “How well do you see when your eyes are in a superior position”? 

I have to admit I occasionally respond sarcastically, so I said, “If my eyes were superior, I wouldn’t have to be here.” Luckily, she laughed. 

“What does ‘superior position’ mean?”, I asked. 

She said, “It means when you look up.” 

So I took a deep breath (more of a sigh, actually), and told her it would help her patients if she said look up. “Everyone knows what that means but few know what “superior position” means,” I said. 

She nodded. “You’re right. I’d never thought about that.”  So, I could easily go on and on and, unfortunately, on some more about jargon. 

How we tell people not to use it when writing to non-experts. 

How we love to give clients lists of jargon words to avoid (whether business jargon or field-specific). 

How we sigh when they fall back on those words. But here’s the thing: 

  • Experts forget they’re talking with or writing to non-experts 
  • Sometimes they literally don’t know how to eliminate jargon and use common words 
  • Sometimes there are no common words to substitute
  • Pointing out the problem of jargon doesn’t solve the problem of jargon
  • Reading an article about jargon doesn’t necessarily change writing habits

What do we need to do to help experts eliminate jargon? 

  • Give them practice with feedback over time.
  • Create a corporate “translation” guide that moves jargon to common words. (see tips below)

They have to unlearn one language and re-learn another. That’s not an easy task. That’s why an overview about jargon may not be sufficient once people are back in the context of other experts using the same words. 

English professors and linguists would call this context a “discourse community” – people who speak the same “language.” 

Notice, I almost finished this musing without using jargon, until the very end. And I first defined what it means before I used the phrase. But I’ve had years of practice. Most people trying to write in plain language are still learning.

If you’d like to learn more, Firehead offers a full range of plain language training to develop your skills in many areas, such as:

  • General concepts to improve your communication
  • Health Communication
  • Academic writing
  • Legal writing
  • Business communication
  • Financial communication


Want to know more? 

Firehead has a new course introducing the principles of plain language by world famous plain language expert Deborah S. Bosley, Ph.D.

Come join us to learn how to get started with plain language in your organisation!

download our free checklist to Plain Language

Found out top tips and strategies to create better content.  

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