My blog on jargon in UK housing generated a great response and was my most popular post of last year.
I’ve not had time until recently to follow through on my promise to turn the feedback into an online resource. Today’s Twitter discussions about the importance of having a shared narrative and housing ‘owning our future’ (or #OOF) makes this a timely post.
I'm at #NHFcomms16 this morning. If we are to own our future, comms professionals are vital. It starts today
“Some people love speaking in jargon, using fancy words and turning everything into acronyms. Personally, I find this simply slows things down, confuses people and causes them to lose interest. It’s far better to use a simple term and commonplace words that everyone will understand, rather than showing off and annoying your audience.”
I have an issue with jargon, and it’s not because I’m a pedant…
At its worst, it alienates those who we’re trying to reach and highlights a disconnect between us and the rest of the world.
It also makes no business sense, because it wastes the time of the person who is giving and receiving the information. Those are strong reasons to stop the ‘cut and paste’ approach that litters business correspondence and get back to basics.
Whilst the world of housing (particularly the bit in which I work) isn’t alone in having its own ‘special’ phrases, it’s clear that we have a problem when it comes to clearly explaining what we do. Ask anyone who joins the sector from another industry (as I did once). They’ll probably tell you much of their first few months were spent wondering what people are talking about in meetings and struggling to decipher emails.
If people who work with us feel like that, what does a small business or resident think when trying to find out about something like a new development in their community, for example?
There may be a case for using jargon sometimes; if the audience understands it, using specialist terms can be an efficient way to make a point. But context matters and dumping technical information into a note intended for someone who isn’t an expert bugs those who are on the receiving end.
And don’t even get me started on acronyms (another post for another day)! Our language is littered with them, ranging from the reasonable (HCA, DCLG) to the odd (LA for council) and plain daft (GCN? Great crested newts, or just newts!).
I was driving home from Pembrokeshire yesterday, with Radio 5 Live’sRichard Bacon inviting listeners to ‘moan in’ about the little things that drive them to distraction. Apart from the fact that all the callers were blokes, it was interesting to hear the range of minor matters that would wind them up – from the pregnant pause before a contestant is ejected from The X Factor to a supermarket brand of fishcake which is said to contain more potato than fish. ‘It should be called a potatocake,’ the caller said.
A random early morning tweet today has found its way onto a dubious list of bad language. Not swearwords: a ‘jargon bin’ full of corporate nonsense, invented by specialists but used and understood by few people outside their immediate circle.
I should point out that it was not my jargon or even my use of it that was being highlighted. I hate jargon and have cringed at times as it is used to bludgeon a clear message. I was innocently tweeting the contents of an email I received via the Government Communications Network, which asked members whether they had an Employee Value Proposition (their caps).
The Government has today published a revised guide to its Localism Bill, in a document it says is written in plain English (without jargon).
It is only available as a pdf, and the black and white design may not be as engaging as more glossy documents produced by the public sector in the past. But communication is all matt, no gloss, now. And if that means less jargon and flowery language too, then I’d welcome that.
Anything that can explain things like council housing finance in simple terms without becoming crushed under the weight of its own jargon and acronyms (RSL, RP, ALMO, HRA, HCA, to name a few) deserves to be shared with the whole sector.