When to use jargon: A copywriter’s guide

One of the big rules of copywriting is to ditch complicated language. When you use simpler words, your copywriting becomes more readable and that increases your chances of it being effective.

It makes sense, doesn’t it?

While this is a great rule most of the time, there are some exceptions.

There are moments when jargon will actually enhance your copywriting. Say, Whaaaaat?

Let me explain.

The Oxford Dictionary defines jargon as:

Noun [mass noun] special words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand.

Some of the reasons you may want to stop making things easy for people are:

You are writing to exclude people

That’s right. Did you know that Geishas have a secret language? You need to know it (as well a jump a lot of other hurdles) if you want to meet with one.

As a copywriter, creating barriers to our message is usually the exact opposite of what we want to achieve but jargon can help you gain some currency with an in-crowd.

Readers can feel smug knowing they have clever trousers on and they get it, unlike other readers.

The language might be slang or highbrow language but (when used with caution) it can help you narrow the field of your audience and create some exclusivity.

You want to create a sense of enhanced value

Value is in the mind of the beholder and you can make the ordinary seem extraordinary with a little bit of wordplay.

Seriously, which would you prefer?

A certified, pre-owned car or a used car?

A grande latte or a medium coffee?

To learn to write a lede or an introduction?

You need to be careful that you aren’t inflating your copy just for the hell of it (or because a client thinks it makes them sound important) because then you’re just writing fluff and all the other copywriters will laugh at you.

You are writing about a technical topic

There are lots of industries that have their own language – everything from IT and engineering to blogging and craft. The more specialised the topic, the more specialised the language.

If your copywriting is selling a technical product to a technical audience, you must speak the same language.

This is when jargon gets some credibility and becomes terminology. Terminology helps you describe something precisely and, more often than not, simpler substitutes just don’t exist.

What about acronyms?

I don’t know about you but there seem to be so many more acronyms around these days. I have to Google most chat and text acronyms. There, I’ve said it. I’m not down with the kids, at all.

If you’re going to use an acronym, explain the term in full with the acronym following in parentheses. You only have to explain it once but make sure you’re consistent in how you present it.

The same with abbreviations.

For example, don’t switch between explaining business-to-business as B2B then B-to-B.

Bob Bly, copywriter, says:

“Even when using legitimate technical terms and acronyms, don’t overdo it. A sentence packed with too many acronyms and technical terms seems cold, inhuman, and almost unreadable. The optimal ratio is no more than one technical term for every ten words in the sentence.”

I don’t know about you but seeming cold and inhuman is never one of my copywriting goals!

If you’re wondering if it’s acceptable to use jargon in your copywriting then your decision should come back to three golden rules of copywriting:

  1. Know your audience.
  2. Know your audience.
  3. Know your audience.

When in doubt, leave the jargon out or explain it!

Are you a secret jargon junkie? Go on – you can tell me. We’re all friends here. Or perhaps you know of other circumstances in which jargon is perfectly acceptable?

Belinda 

17 Responses

  1. Great tips (as usual) Belinda.
    It’s often difficult for those who use jargon to understand that those words are foreign to others outside their field.
    We copywriters and editors sometimes have to work hard to get them to explain their jargon so that their readers can know what is being said.
    It all comes back to ‘know your audience’ – every time.

    1. That’s so true Desolie. Even as copywriters and editors, we have our language and it’s important to get our head out of our lingo for others!

      I appreciate your kind words and your comment!

  2. Hey Belinda

    I am so glad to have stumbled upon your website. You are quickly becoming my go-to-person for all things copywriting #HUGS

    This is an immensely useful post, simply because it tackles an old topic in a refreshing manner.

    Thanks
    Kitto

  3. Hi, sound advice. I always enjoy your posts, the one about Call to action was eye-opening.

    I do mostly translation (EN-FI-EN), but a fair bit of original copy for very different audiences.
    Just like in brick and mortar business, the three most important factors are: Location, Location and Location;
    and in any kind of writing the very first thing to ask your clients is: Who is this message meant for.

    Keep it coming!

  4. Belinda, thank you for this post! I don’t use jargon while I write my essay, for me it’s weird process, and I’m scared of loosing my readers because of using it. You showed why it needful and the way to achieve success in such a case. You are inspiring me to create more and more texts!

    1. You’re welcome! I think ditching jargon is a pretty good rule of thumb but in the circumstances above, it’s a bit more appropriate.

      It all depends on your topic and the readers… Mostly the readers! The key is to never, ever use jargon simply to sound clever (because it never works!)

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Hi Belinda, its amazing to me how easy it is for you to write an essay that is flawless. I’m still working on my essay writing skills and this offered great help to me. Thanks a lot.

  6. I knew a lot of people in the marketing industry who uses technical jargons to impress potential clients. They think using such words would impress a client? I don’t think so! It is still best to use layman’s term so that you can ensure that both you and your prospect are on the same page to avoid business problems in the future.

  7. In my signup, I said I was a copywriter, but I lied. I want copywriting tips. I notice editors and copywriters use an en dash instead of an em dash when they want to push a reader forward. Why? Also, they put a space on either side of the en dash. Hmm…

    1. I think it’s partially because of the punctuation layout on the keyboard and how tools like Word autocorrect them. I often use dashes and ellipses like commas… to add a moment of pause into the copy.

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