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Advoiding Jargon

Identifying (and Avoiding) Jargon

Jargon is one of the most important things to learn how to identify and avoid when it comes to science communication. ‘Jargon’ are words or expressions that are only used by a small subset of people. Planning to talk to people about running your PCRs or an assemblage of species? Unless they’re your colleagues at a conference, you'll probably be met with blank stares.  Identifying jargon is an important step in any kind of science communication- regardless of whether your goal is to be able to explain what you do to your family at Thanksgiving, or to get your research covered by international media.

A common recommendation for identifying jargon is to find a willing non-scientist with a fair level of education, and explain your research to them. Ask them to identify any words or phrases that they don't understand. Great candidates for this job are kids who are around 12-years old, and grandparents.

Terms also have completely different meanings to scientists compared to the public.


A more extreme exercise you can try for fun is to describe your research using only the 1,000 most commonly used words. Up-Goer Five Text Editor allows you to type your research story in a box that will reject any words that aren't in the top 1000. This is just a fun thing to try- and certainly won't be useful for your media strategy. Also, check out the inspiration behind the Up-Goer Blog, The amazing XKCD cartoon: Using the Top 1,000 Words to Explain How a Rocket Works.

An explanation of Sara Kross' research where niether bird or bug made the word list:

Food is important. We all need food to live. Animals that fly eat some of the small animals that like to eat our food. But some of the animals that fly also like to eat our food, so they aren't always good. Places that grow food have changed the land so there are fewer homes for the animals that fly to live in. We are trying to find out if making more homes for the animals that fly will mean we get more good animals that fly and fewer bad animals that fly. Some animals that fly are both good and bad to confuse things. Work is hard. We all love food so we will find the answer.

There's also a tumblr collection called TenHundred Words of Science where other people have used this tool to describe their research.