I’ve been thinking about jargon recently because the WriteMark New Zealand Plain English Awards are coming up.
The annual Plain English Awards aim to:
raise public awareness of the need for and benefits of plain English
create a public preference for organisations that choose to communicate in plain English
promote the importance of writing to an agreed plain English standard
I always thought the defining characteristic of Plain English was the limited use of jargon. Apparently not. Plain English is defined as “… a style of writing in which the language, structure, and presentation of a document all work together to help the reader. A document written in plain English is easy to read, understand, and act upon after just one reading.” It’s more than just about restricting the use of jargon and industry-specific words. It’s about writing in such a way that it’s clear to the reader what you’re talking about.
The library world is filled with word-labels for things and there is often more than one word for the same concept.
- Children – juvenile – kids – youth – teens – young adult
- OPAC – catalogue – computer
- Issues – Check-out/Check-in – returns – circulation
- Help desk – enquiries – reference – information
- Patron – member – customer – client – student
I’m sure that you can come up with many more.
Jargon is a funny thing. Knowing what the word means puts me warm and cosy on the inside of the group. Not knowing what it means results in frustration. It’s everywhere and sometimes the only reason I notice I’m using it is because someone asks me what that word means.
That we all use a different path to come to an understanding of the same concept is illustrated by the differences in library defined subject headings and user created tags. I think I’d prefer to have consistent jargon but then that would exclude other people’s definitions. What I’m going to aim for in my work documents is to write in such a way that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the word I’m using, you’ll understand what I’m saying.