When users want jargon?

Subject: When users want jargon?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 3 Jun 2002 14:55:53 -0400

Anita Legsdin wonders: <<What do you do when, after you've done your best to
use simple language and clear procedures, your users ask for jargon?>>

Humbly thank your users for pointing out that you've oversimplified your
writing? <g> Don't forget, "jargon" has two meanings: wording that only a
select few will understand and that only confuses others, and appropriate
words that communicate effectively to those who must use them. Don't try to
change the latter kind of jargon because doing so means using terms that are
less familiar to your audience. There's an argument to be made for teaching
your readers correct usage, but don't do that at the expense of clear

<<I'm writing a manual for a product that's designed to go to more than one
customer... The one we have a contract with right now [has] comments like,
"you don't include procedures for provisioning!" or, "Please add procedures
for degrowth." This company has developed so much specialized jargon that
it's nearly impossible to understand what it is they want. In many cases,
the procedures they're looking for are in the documentation, but under
"removing equipment" instead of "degrowth", or "configuration" rather than

You don't want to use words that only one company uses internally, yet
neither do you want to alienate an important customer. The first step
towards a resolution involves contacting some of your other potential
customers (or asking your sales staff to do this for you) so you can find
out whether the proposed terms are standard in the industry; if they are,
you need to update your working vocabulary for this project to reflect the
prevailing usage.

If not, then you shouldn't use terms that other customers won't understand.
One possible compromise: If your current wording is standard usage for your
industry, stick with it and explain to the current customer why you're doing
so. To address their concerns, add synonyms in the index, such as "degrowth:
see Removing equipment" and "provisioning: see Configuration".

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada
"User's advocate" online monthly at
"When ideas fail, words come in very handy."--Goethe

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