The Quickest Way to a Dull Story: Jargon

The condemnation of jargon in news releases has gone on since the invention of the tool, with the latest salvo coming from Ben Worthen at The Journal.

This is a tough one.

You can articulate a rationale worthy of the Wiley College debate team, but a given company will still insist on inserting wonderful phrases like “the agile solutions-oriented enterprise” or “the cutting-edge SCSI appliance drive.”

On the other hand, there’s no excuse for allowing jargon to impede the storytelling process (unless your gift for narrative rivals Tom Clancy).

Jargon weighs down the telling of a story.

Jargon smothers the drama of story.

Jargon bores people.

BTW, it’s not just the tech industry that suffers the slings and arrows of jargon. Every industry ranging from transportation to medical to biotech creates its own esoteric language for those on the inside.

I suppose that last point gets to the issue.

When communicating to those on the outside, the jargon loses its meaning.

I think one of the best storytellers, whether in print or on video, is David Pogue from The New York Times.

In a Ragan interview earlier in the year, Pogue made the point that having to wade through a bunch of fluff turns him off quickly.

On the other end of the spectrum, he shared the following example of a pitch that kick-started the storytellling process and ended up as a column:

“One guy said, ‘David, my client sells a laptop that can be dropped from six feet, get dunked in water and survive in 300-degree heat. Let me know if you’re interested.’

“How can I not be interested?”

Good drama in a succinct and conversational 29 words.

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2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Sarah Lafferty October 3rd, 2008 3:23 am

    I loathe jargon and other forms of evasion and waffle. It is convenient for journalists to assume that PR people manufacture this nonsense, but more often than not it is the work of corporate navel-gazers who don’t spend enough time on the front lines. Sometimes for political reasons it is nigh on impossible to remove all Jargon from press releases, but at least we can avoid using it in our verbal and written pitches. Worst case, jargon leads to mistrust, so it’s our duty to persuade our clients to ditch it.

  2. Lou Hoffman October 3rd, 2008 8:26 am

    That’s a great point. Regardless of what’s in the news release, we’ve essentially got a blank canvas when it comes to how we articulate the story (behind the scenes) to various influencers. Goes back to the laptop computer pitch highlighted by David Pogue.

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