Knowledge is Power, But Beware the Jargon: Tips for Writing for Any Industry
Gaining detailed knowledge of a new subject can be challenging. Such is the constant quest of a PR professional, especially those of us in tech PR, who keep up with evolving and emerging trends and absorb news to create storylines and write content.
Mastery of subject matter lends the ability to write meatier content, as well as brainstorm more relevant and interesting topics for more effective pitches to capture the media’s interest. But it can also bring a new challenge: The more you become fluent in your client’s technology and industry, the more jargon you start to absorb. But getting too much in the weeds of a subject risks jargon takeover, making it harder to write clearly for an introductory audience.
Jargon Gone Wrong
Understanding jargon is necessary and can even be used as a tool in showing expertise where appropriate. But too much absorption of jargon can leak into your writing and render it unintelligible for the average reader. Consider no usage versus exclusive use of jargon in a faux announcement:
Sentence 1, no jargon: “MadeUp Company introduces its new technology solution for the home to bring consumers an easy experience in a sleek design for entertainment.”
Sentence 2, all jargon: “MadeUp Company introduces the XSX-1000 product for high-resolution, 4K video distribution with HDMI and Wi-Fi connectivity to enable user content choice.”
Neither sentence is clear, and neither packs a punch.
The first sentence could be describing virtually any product, where the only specificity is that the “technology” goes in a home and is used for entertainment. In Sentence 2, the reader could also discern that the product mentioned is used for entertainment, but it’s not even clear whether it’s for the home or a professional application.
A press release starting with either of the sentences would quickly get passed over by media and readers.
To write press releases, pitches, storylines, and articles that resonate with tech media, PR pros need to gain an understanding of the industry, and the jargon, and digest it back down. Working through a learning and editing cycle can help maintain the right balance.
Learn The Language
It’s critical to learn the jargon to communicate well with media in the industry and write relevant content. You have to speak the same language, and it can take time. Start by reading the news in mainstream outlets, and work your way through more trade and technical articles to being learning learn the industry, the key players, and what language they use. Reading and listening to conversations on social media will build up your knowledge base of the subject matter, the big picture, and how your client fits in.
The more you read, the more you’ll absorb the jargon and “speak” the language of the industry you’re getting into. Looking up new phrases, or perhaps odd ways of using phrases you know, can help in this process.
After a while, the first technical articles that took a while to get through are easily absorbed: This is a benchmark for understanding the industry and the next step for working on writing in it.
Translate or Chop Jargon
A good writer knows how to adjust tone, word choice, and grammar style for any audience. But this can be easier said than done when you’re going back-and-forth between technical pieces, consumer-facing blogs, and pitching media across different tech verticals in a single day.
Editing is critical to find the right balance, and there are three ways to approach it: Write with jargon on full blast and chop it out, include it with proper explanation, or use exercises to practice considering the right audience.
Writing with the jargon in can be useful for more technical articles, and even necessary for the audience. Still, any writing should explain technical terms and jargon; for these articles, it might work best to write the piece as-is with jargon and then add additional context, sources, and explanation as necessary upon first reference to make it more approachable.
For less technical audiences, jargon can be used lightly in the same way if introduced and sourced properly. For this approach, writing full-force with jargon in draft and then adjusting it in the editing process is a simple process. Using tools like Grammarly, CTRL+F to find jargon-y words so you can replace them with layman’s terms and proper explanation. A final step might be to give the piece to someone unfamiliar with the industry. This can be helpful in ensuring the piece is understandable.
The alternative is to try to keep the jargon out of the piece entirely through the drafting process, which becomes more challenging as the vocabulary becomes more familiar. Visualizing the audience, reading a piece in the target publication to understand the tone and level of technical knowledge provided, or writing down the points that audience is expected to understand, can help to identify what information will be introduced in the piece.
Need Help? Cite Your Sources
If you have trouble finding the jargon or getting it out of your system, leaning on a third party source can help add credibility. For example, Caster has several clients in the IoT and smart home space that I’ve worked with over the years, so I have a pretty substantial knowledge base going. While I’ve learned that the smart home market is growing and smart speakers like Google Assistant and Amazon Echo have played a part in the consumer awareness, it isn’t common knowledge even though it’s started to seem like it to me.
A simple way to avoid dropping in not-so-common knowledge is to cite a source, whether a research piece or a recent article that discusses the claim in-depth. In smart home pieces, we source data from reputable sources who substantiate what we’re saying. Or, if referring to an industry standard, organization, acronym, or other related technology in your piece, linking to a credible organization can direct readers to more background so they can better understand.
Being an effective PR person requires speaking all the languages of our clients and their industries. Balancing jargon with information fluency is a necessary skill to create content and stories that work across the vast number of publications we work with. When done right, a PR pro can use these skills to land amazing stories and headlines.