Don’t Use Jargon

Capacity building, return on investment, leverage, impactful. How do you react when you see these words?  Do you embrace them or do they make you cringe?

These are just a few examples (unfortunately there are many) of jargon. I think people use jargon because it’s an insider language, and it makes them feel like they are “in the know” in their professional world.  

People need to understand you to connect with you
But what happens when jargon creeps outside of your insular community and into the public?  People won’t understand you. We are all guilty of it. I remember talking to someone about a program and using the terms capacity building and direct service, and the person had no idea what I was talking about.

When you use jargon with your donors and other supporters, you are not connecting with them. You won’t get your message across if your audience doesn’t understand it.

Use fresh language
Sometimes we get lazy and use jargon when we can’t think of anything fresh and original. The next time you are writing something for your organization, look it over carefully to see if it contains words found in these links.  
If it does, replace them with plain, but fresh language that your audience will understand (see links below for examples). Not all of the words in the links above are jargon. Some are awkward or pompous words and phrases that you should also avoid.

Garbl’s Plain English Writing Guide


Get rid of all your jargon
Eliminate jargon from all your written materials including grant proposals. Even if your potential funder might understand some of the insider language, your proposal is one of many being submitted, and will be much more readable if you if to stick to a simple, conversational style. 

It may be easier to catch these dreaded words when you are writing, but also be careful when you are speaking. Do the words that come out of your mouth contain jargon? They shouldn’t if you are talking to a potential funder or someone not familiar with your work. Even if you are speaking to someone in the nonprofit community, ditch the jargon.

In addition, before you put a quote from your Executive Director or Board Chair in your annual report, newsletter, or a press release, check to see if it contains jargon. I’ve seen many that do. Here again, you are trying to connect with people. Speak to your audience.

Don’t get sent to jargon jail
Nonprofit Consultant and radio host Tony Martignetti has a jargon jail on his radio program and sends people there when they slip into jargon Philanthropy Jargon I love that idea.

Let’s all make a pact to not use jargon and to stay out of jargon jail.

What are some examples of jargon that make you cringe?

Image by Gavin Llewellyn via Flickr
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One thought on “Don’t Use Jargon

  1. Great post, Ann. Jargon is insider speak, and keeps outsiders from understanding what you are talking about, especially donors and board members. If they don't understand what you are saying, they don't understand what you want them to support.

    I was directed to the jargon generator before and found it hilarious, because it spit out phrases that could have come out of the mouth of any NPO exec I know.

    Like

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