Copywriting Tip: How Too Much Jargon Will Ruin Your Message

Web Copywriting JargonHave you ever had a conversation with an “expert” in some field? At first, you’re impressed with his knowledge. Within a minute, you haven’t a clue what he’s talking about. Within two minutes you’re bored to tears and are looking for an escape.

Language is a funny thing. You can speak in the same tongue as the person to whom you’re conversing, but never get your point across because what’s in your head isn’t remotely what’s in her head.

And, this goes far beyond one gender coming from Mars and another Venus. We all suffer from the same fate simply because it’s how our minds work.

Here’s a simple experiment you can do with a friend that will illustrate my point:

Think about the U.S. national anthem. Find a couple of friends, and ask the to tell you what song you’re tapping out with your fingers. Now, without humming or making a sound, tap out the Star Spangled Banner with one of your fingers.

While you clearly hear the music in your head, your friends will guess everything from “Happy Birthday” to “Hey Jude.”

What you hear and see in your head isn’t what everyone sees or hears when you speak or write, especially when it’s as clear as day to you. In fact, the clearer it is to you, the less clear it will be to your reader or listener. The trick is to get out of your head.

When Jargon Gets in the Way of Good Copy

I asked three sales people from the same company to describe how their system works. I got three completely different answers, with each trying to paint a “clear picture” by using different versions of the same industry jargon.

When I asked users to describe the same system, I actually got a more understandable response because they avoided using any jargon or industry phrases. Instead, they opted to describe the system in their own terms.

When I say to “get out of your head,” I want you to write about your services and products from the perspective of the people who actually use your services and products. More than likely they won’t use the same phrases you use on a regular basis.

For example, your cardiologist might tell you that you have a “mitral valve prolapse” with “excessive regurgitation.” Try explaining that to your best friend.

You’ll probably end up saying, “I’ve got a leaky heart valve that’s pumping too much blood into the wrong heart chamber. This makes my heart work harder, which will eventually make my heart fail.”

What Does Johnny Say?

When looking for the best way to describe a product or service, I’ll usually ask the people who are lowest on the pecking order to give me their interpretation or best guess. I’ll ask administrative people, customers, and new sales people.

Inevitably, I’ll find the right words from people other than the director of marketing or head of sales. They (the directors) are too immersed in the product and service to “tap it out” in a way that anyone not in their heads can understand.

If you truly want your prospects to understand the value of your services or products, then ask “Johnny” – they guy in the lone cubicle in the corner who uses the product, but lacks any appropriate “credentials” to talk about it.

Years ago, when a copywriter was working on an ad campaign for a beer, he walked through the distillery and asked various workmen what they were doing. The “mundane” process they described as “filtering the water” became the basis for a hugely successful advertising campaign.

This copywriter discovered something he never would have found if he’d only listened to the experts. He found a tune that their target market heard clearly in their heads, and did so by completely avoiding hyperbole and jargon.

Try it for yourself. See if you can describe any of your services without using any industry jargon. I’ll bet you a six pack of vegan filtered beer that you can’t do it.


Written by Sid Smith Written by