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Unpacking Jargon—Part Two

by | Nov 8, 2018 | Advice, Editing and Revision, Nuts and Bolts, Revising Your Proposal

Part One of this post [link] described reasons to limit jargon in your proposal, and two strategies to help you minimize your use of jargon. Part Two offers more specific advice for addressing jargon in your writing.

Define for yourself each term you or your readers have identified as jargon. You may discover that some of these words aren’t perfectly clear even to you. Use this as an opportunity to clarify your own thinking by going back to your sources, reviewing the meaning of each term, and considering how important it is to use the term rather than a synonymous word or phrase. Greater clarity in your thinking will show in your writing.

Are you introducing a new term—or helping to promote another scholar’s introduction of the term—as an essential part of your work? Then use the term, but don’t assume it will speak for itself, or that the need for it will be obvious. Give credit where it is due, and briefly describe the origin of and need for the term. Instead of skimming over this unfamiliar term as jargon, reviewers may be intrigued by the development of a new term when you show them the work that the underlying concept can do.

Be wary of specialized terms that are long or difficult to pronounce. These can be stumbling blocks for a reader who is unfamiliar with them. Challenge yourself to find a more readable term, or to define long terms immediately after you use them in order to help your reader along.

Pay attention to the density of jargon in your paper. Many instances of specialized language packed closely together in a sentence or paragraph can fatigue or frustrate a reviewer, who may then skim jargon-heavy sections.

It is probably impossible to remove or address all jargon in a proposal. Some terms, while they may not be a part of general knowledge, are embedded in a discipline so deeply and understood so widely across related specialties that to define them would simply waste valuable space. A scientific proposal shouldn’t have to define peptides or assays, for instance, and a scholar of the humanities shouldn’t have to substitute plainer language for terms like synecdoche or phenomenology. But the ability to describe your project in plain language to an audience of educated people is a valuable skill to develop. Some even say that “you only truly know your project if you can describe it so simply that a ten-year-old can understand!” The work you do to address jargon in your writing will improve your overall mastery of your project, and your skill in communicating your research to diverse audiences. Furthermore, it will increase the likelihood of a reviewer seeing the value of your project.

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