IS IT ALWAYS BAD TO USE JARGON IN YOUR COPY?
"We help disruptive startups pivot their offering and maximise their growth potential by leveraging their social graph and the power of big data."
“What does that even mean?” you may be muttering to yourself as you read this. Perhaps, you’ve even thrown up in your mouth a little (I know I did, and I came up with that thing myself).
As a copywriter, jargon is probably the bane of your existence. A dirty word, even. So you confine it to the deepest, darkest recesses of your writing toolbox, vowing to never use it unless you’re desperate.
But let’s take the emotion out of it for a second and try to be objective.
Is jargon really all that bad? Or is it more likely that it’s misunderstood and, all too often, misused?
Personally, I’d argue for the second option. I don’t think jargon is necessarily bad. Or the province of the pretentious and the hacks. On the contrary, I think it can one of the most powerful tools in the copywriter’s arsenal.
Provided, of course, that you use it the right way.
When not to use jargon
Woah! Put away your pitchforks. Let me explain.
I’m certainly not saying you should go off and start trotting out the most obscure jargon you know every second sentence. As far as I’m concerned, that’s exactly the problem. The reason why jargon gets such a bad rap.
Jargon is a slippery slope. To borrow an analogy from Stephen King, it’s the copywriting equivalent of the dandelion. One’s fine. Even pretty. But if you’re not careful, your lawn will get blanketed in them. Which means you won’t be able to tell the grass from the flower stalks. Or see your lawn at all.
The problem with this is obvious. If you’re writing for a broad audience that lacks specialist knowledge — whether it’s B2C or B2B — too much jargon can make your copy inaccessible. This means you’re less likely to capture your readers’ imagination and persuade them to buy what you’re selling. And that’s the opposite of what you want.
But what if making the copy inaccessible to some people is exactly the point? Wouldn’t judicious use of jargon give you an edge?
The one compelling reason to use jargon (sparingly)
If you scroll up two paragraphs, you’ll notice that I used the terms B2C and B2B.
I’ll hazard a guess. You probably kept reading without giving those two terms a second thought, right?
Why? Because most of us here are probably copywriters.
I’m a copywriter. And I’m writing this piece for an audience of copywriters. This means it’s safe to assume we’re both familiar with the lingo. We get each other. So I can get away with saying B2C and B2B without having to worry about whether you’ll understand me. Or sound like a pretentious douche.
The same goes when you’re addressing any specialist audience.
In fact, I’d go a step further. Sometimes, you’re expected to know the lingo. And you have to use it if you want to be taken seriously. Think of it as the secret language that helps you gain entry into an exclusive club.
You can’t address an audience of motorcycle enthusiasts unless you know your airheads from your four-strokes. Or an audience of gamers unless you know your MMORPGs from your Sandboxes.
Use those terms correctly, and you’ll build trust by showing your readers that you’re one of them. It’s your foot in the door.
But tread lightly. Because if you use them the wrong way, you’ll be (rightly) called out as a phony.
And another compelling reason to use jargon (still sparingly)
Trust aside, jargon can also be helpful another way.
Good copywriting is clear, to the point and efficient. And, well, sometimes using jargon is the best way to hit all three.
The first example that comes to my mind is the word “friction”. In the payments industry, friction means something that interrupts the customer from completing a purchase by forcing them to take an extra step or steps. So, for example, having to input your credit card details before checking out on Amazon causes friction.
If I’m writing for a general audience, many will probably be thrown by my use of the word. So I have to explain what it is. But if I know my audience will get friction right off the bat, why use up a whole paragraph on a long-winded explanation when I can communicate the same thing — and more clearly, at that — with just one word?
Final word… and a warning
So is jargon good or bad? And how do you decide whether to use it or keep it benched?
Well, it really depends on your audience.
If you’re trying to reach as broad an audience as possible, it’s probably best to steer clear. There’ll be many who’ll lack specialist knowledge, so jargon will probably put them off or even alienate them altogether.
In contrast, jargon can have the opposite effect on a narrow, specific audience, allowing you to build trust and make your copy more compelling.
That said, this doesn’t mean you should go for broke. The rules of good copy still apply. So, before you start harping on about leveraging solutions and shooting up the SERPs, don’t forget to ask yourself:
"Is this really the best word for the job?"