The problem with jargon and technobabble

Alice Hollis

Alice Hollis Ltd. - More than words®

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a mummy is observing my boys learn how to speak. It amazes me that they’ve both picked up the English language, simply by listening to the people around them.

But while they both have a pretty extensive vocabulary, they do come out with the odd word or phrase that makes you think.

Some of my favourite Jake-isms include:

  • “Respecting”
  • “Chocolate skin ice-cream”
  • “Waiting bread”

While Oscar, who’s only two, is obsessed with:

  • “Piggy film”
  • “Orange juice”
  • “Monkey Puzzle”

I know what they mean – but do you?

At first glance, it’s obvious that they’re not speaking an alien language, but what you read and what they actually mean can be two different things:

  • “Respecting”: what he really means is “expecting”
  • “Chocolate skin ice-cream”: Magnum ice-cream
  • “Waiting bread”: he’s too hungry to wait for dinner so needs a slice of bread and butter now (no crusts)
  • “Piggy film”: Sing
  • “Orange juice”: blackcurrant juice
  • “Monkey Puzzle”: the book by Julia Donaldson

It’s easy to make the same mistakes with the language you use in your marketing.

Industry jargon means nothing unless you’re on the inside

We all know you should never assume anything. And yet, it’s so simple to forget when you spend every day in a world where you think everyone is speaking the same language as you.

Surely everyone who works in the modern-day world of tech knows about:

  • IoT (Institute of Directors)
  • BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)
  • Big Data (the massive volume of different kinds of data that businesses collect and process)
  • Cloud (storing and accessing data on the internet instead of your computer’s hard drive)
  • Shadow IT (IT hardware or software that’s managed without the knowledge of an organisation’s IT Department)
  • SaaS (Software as a Service)?

But what if they don’t? Or what if their definition or understanding is slightly different to yours – will the benefits of your product/service get lost in translation?

I recently worked with a software company that had developed a business process management platform. To support online sign-ups, it was running a series of pay-per-click campaigns.

One of the keywords it was sponsoring was “BPM”. It makes sense because, in their world, BPM is short for ‘business process management.’

But it also means ‘business process modelling’ – not overly dissimilar, but if the landing page content doesn’t immediately reference ‘modelling’ it’s going to increase the bounce rate.

And people searching for ‘BPM’ could also be interested in ‘beats per minute’. And this means they’d end up wasting money, paying for a lot of traffic that was completely irrelevant and therefore, never going to convert.

Say what you see

If you want to be certain that your content is resonating with your reader, you need to keep it simple. Forget the fancy terminology, industry jargon and technobaffle and talk to everyone as if they were new to your industry.

That’s not to say that you have to come across as patronising and talk down to people. Simply spell out what you’re saying so you know for sure that you’re speaking the same language.

Top tips for simple, jargon-free copy

  • Spell out your acronyms: if you do this the first time you use it in your copy, the reader then knows exactly what you mean throughout the rest of the piece.
  • Boxing out definitions: this indicates to the reader that they’re important, but not essential to the narrative. And again, clarifies what you mean.
  • Reference sources of further reading: cite/link to interesting articles or research in your content. It will build that trust with the reader and align you with your industry leaders.
  • Ask a non-techie to read and review: as a non-techie, I always say that if I understand it, anyone can.
  • Forget the speeds and feeds: yes, they’re impressive, but what does 99.99999% reliability mean in terms of business impact? Talking in real terms will always resonate more.

I love the English language, and the longer I spend as a copywriter, the more I appreciate the connotations and nuances of the words I write.

What do you think?

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