Using less financial jargon is a goal that most writers can agree on. But how can you get there? Reading Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing, a book that’s useful for non-academics, too, gave me an idea.
Here’s a suggestion from Sword:
If you suspect that you suffer from jargonitis, start by measuring the scope of your addiction. Print out a sample of your academic writing and highlight every word that would not be immediately comprehensible to a reader from outside your own discipline.
Underlining the jargon would also be a great first step for financial writers. But simply underlining what you perceive as jargon won’t get you to your goal of using less financial jargon. I have some suggestions for you.
1. Ask a member of your target audience to help
Your perception of jargon and your target audience’s perception may differ. For example, in a comment on my post, “Words to avoid in your investment communications with regular folks,” Dan Sondhelm said, “I teach portfolio managers to not say anything to do with a ‘bet’ or ‘exposure.’ ” Those words—especially “bet,” a one-syllable word that’s widely used by regular folks—may not sound like jargon to a financial project. However, in context, a member of your target audience may be confused.
To get a sense of your target audience’s perception, ask one of them to underline words in your sample. Don’t specify that they’re looking for jargon. Instead, ask them to underline words that they’re not sure they understand in your context.
If your volunteer doesn’t underline much, perhaps they’re embarrassed to reveal their ignorance. Another test is to say, “Please explain this text in your own words.” If they parrot back your vocabulary, you must be using jargon—or writing in a way that’s difficult to understand. Either way, you’ve gained valuable feedback.
2. Rewrite your sample’s jargon-heavy sentences in at least two different ways
Play around with different ways to rewrite your jargon-heavy sentences. Then, let your rewrite sit overnight, at a minimum. The ideas will marinate in your head while you wait.
You may come up with your best rewrite on your last attempt.
I know you can’t invest this much time into writing every time. But doing it occasionally will shake up the way you think about writing.
3. Look up jargon in dictionaries or glossaries
Sometimes people use jargon because they don’t understand their topic well enough to use plain language.
Looking up jargon in one of the online resources I mention in “How to make one quarterly letter fit clients at different levels of sophistication” (see point #4. Provide a glossary), will help you to understand it. Then, you can replace the jargon with wording that your readers can grasp.
YOUR suggestions for using less financial jargon?
I’m curious to hear your suggestions for cutting the amount of jargon in financial writing.
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