What do you mean? Jargon, lingo, and whatchamacallit

As you are reading material both online and offline, there is a good chance that you are going to encounter terminology that is unfamiliar to you. It could be industry jargon, niche-specific lingo, or just uncommon words used in uncommon kind of ways. For example, I remember the first time I saw “MMO” written on an Internet marketing blog and wondering why on Earth they’d be talking about World of Warcraft. I later discovered that MMO could also stand for “make money online” and that made a lot more sense. Similarly, you may not be quite as familiar with medical terminology or the intricacies of astrophysics.

From the perspective of the writer, we have one of two options when we make use of perhaps lesser-known terms. First, you could explain or define any uncommon term as you use it. This may be appropriate for describing Twitter terminology if your blog is not well-ensconced in the world of social media.

On the other hand, you could simply assume that your audience has a certain level of basic knowledge and they will have the impetus to look up any terms that they do not know. A company’s financial reports, for instance, will likely assume an adequate expertise in economics and finances. Between these two strategies, which better represents the best practices when it comes to jargon and lingo?

Assume Ignorance and Define Everything

Whether you are a casual blogger or a professional newspaper reporter, having good grammar doesn’t mean all that much if you keep using words that are meaningless to your readers. The most important thing is that people who read your articles can understand what you are trying to say. In this way, it may be a good idea to define terms as you go along, just in case your reader does not know what this means or what that means. There is also the consideration of time. What may be common knowledge today may not be common knowledge tomorrow. What you write today will last forever, so you want your work to be understandable to future audiences as well.

The biggest problem with this kind of approach is that your writing can feel very disjointed, since you are constantly interjection brief explanations and definitions of terms. This can also be very frustrating and even insulting to your readers, because you are assuming that their glossary is not as vast as yours.

Don’t Insult Their Intelligence and Define Nothing

On the flip side, you can choose to define nearly nothing. This is much more acceptable when you are writing within a certain niche for readers within that niche. If you look at some of the things that I’ve been writing, I don’t define too many of the industry-specific terms and acronyms that I use. When I write about upcoming cell phones on Mobile Magazine, I don’t constantly define terms like EVDO and HSDPA, because it’s assumed that the majority of the audience is quite tech-savvy. For readers with this knowledge, the article is much more concise and easier to read.

However, readers who are not familiar with the terminology will be left with a very frustrating experience, because they’ll have no idea what the article is trying to say. By attempting not to insult their intelligence, you may be making the audience feel as if they are inadequate or as if they are being put down in some way. You want to empower your audience, not insult it.

It Depends on the Circumstances

So, what are the best practices for handling lingo and jargon in your writing? Well, it really depends on the context and the kind of audience to which you are trying to cater. Just because you like to read about a certain topic and have a greater understanding of it does not mean that your audience is equally savvy in that particular area. I would define the most obscure of terms as needed, but you do not have to define every instance of it. That would be annoying.

What do you think? What do you do with industry or niche-specific terminology?