Imagine your computer keyboard has started acting up or an appliance in your house has broken. Ugh!
If you’re like me, one of the first things you do is head to Google to see if there’s a tutorial that will help you fix the problem on your own.
You scroll through the search results, and one of the articles looks promising. You click it and begin reading, hoping it will help you.
But the author starts using technical terms and jargon you don’t understand. Your head begins to swim.
You don’t finish reading and, instead, quickly click away to another article so you don’t waste any more time.
Why did the author lose your attention?
Well, those jargon words and technical terms probably made you feel like you were trudging through a bog, rather than effortlessly sliding from one sentence to the next.
Are your readers having a similar experience when they read your writing?
Jargon words can be rather crafty. They can creep into our writing often without us knowing.
We can get so comfortable using terms and phrases specific to our niche or profession that we don’t realize that the people we’re trying to reach may not be familiar with them.
Our target audience is then left scratching their heads in bewilderment. That can result in a lost sale or a lost chance to persuade them of the great motivational tip we had that could change their life.
For example, I was recently working with a web design client. I suggested that I could help him rewrite his homepage using copywriting techniques. But he had no idea what the word copywriting meant.
So I explained, “I can help you turn your homepage into a powerful ad for your business.” When I said that, I saw the light bulb go off in his head.
He now understood how I could help him because I was using the same language he would use.
In today’s blog post, I’m sharing a three-step process you can follow to make sure you’re writing in the language of your readers.
With this process, you’ll be able to determine whether your writing contains confusing jargon words and technical terms you need to eliminate.
You’ll ensure you’re writing words that delight and captivate your readers rather than words that drive them away.
Let’s get started.
Step #1: Identify your audience
Okay, before we dive into this step, we need to first talk about whether you can ever use jargon and technical terms in your writing.
In George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing, he warned,
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Now, I think George Orwell was a fantastic writer, but I have to disagree with him here.
I believe it’s perfectly fine to use jargon words if your audience understands them. The problem is when they don’t.
Here’s a good definition of jargon from Dictionary.com:
Special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.
So, if your audience is made up of the people in a particular profession or group, it’s okay to use the special words and expressions that they use. But if you’re speaking to people outside that group, don’t use jargon.
For example, in the Internet marketing world, jargon would be words like “email funnels” or “autoresponders” or “bounce rate” or “lead magnets.”
My dad has a health and wellness blog, and when I suggest he optimize his blog with a lead magnet, he looks at me like, “Can you speak English, please?”
If you’re writing to experienced Internet marketers, you wouldn’t have to avoid those words. In fact, your use of those jargon words would indicate that you’re talking to experts and not to newbies.
But, if your audience is full of newbie Internet marketers, you need to make sure you use words they can understand. If you do use jargon, you need to define it clearly.
And that’s why step one of the jargon-elimination process is to determine exactly who your audience is.
Are they newbies? Or experts?
Are they completely unfamiliar with the topic you’re writing about? Or are they insiders who know the lingo?
Even if they are insiders, you still want to be careful overloading your sentences with too much jargon or too many technical terms.
In The Marketing Plan Handbook, top copywriter Bob Bly advises,
Even when using legitimate technical terms and acronyms, don’t overdo it. A sentence packed with too many acronyms and technical terms seems cold, inhuman, and almost unreadable. The optimal ratio is no more than one technical term for every ten words in the sentence.
If you know your audience wouldn’t understand specific jargon words or you’re not sure if they would, you should avoid jargon or make sure you define those words.
Once you’ve gotten clear on who your audience is, it’s time for step 2.
Step #2: Ask yourself this question while you edit
When you write with your audience in mind, you’ll be more likely to avoid using words that might confuse them. But sometimes those words can slip past you without you knowing.
You’ve gotten so used to using them that you forget they aren’t as common as you think. (Wait, doesn’t everyone sit around talking about their latest lead magnet and their blog’s Google analytics and how they’re going to grow their tribe? No????)
So after you’ve gotten your words down on paper, go back to edit them with this question in mind, “Are these the exact words my reader/client/customer would use?”
If you’re a life coach, would potential clients come to you saying they want to “lean into their strengths” and find their “zone of genius”? Or would they instead use words like “skill set ” and “expertise”?
If you’re a web designer, would your clients say they want to “optimize their website”? Or would they instead say that they want to “get more search traffic”?
Sometimes it can be as subtle as changing a single word. For example, a ghostwriter might say she helps clients write “compelling words” instead of “compelling content.”
Combing through testimonials is one of the best ways to find the language that your clients use.
I recently did this when helping one of my copywriting clients write a sales page. She had testimonials from previous coaching calls she’d done. We lifted whole phrases from these testimonials to weave throughout her sales page.
She received an email from a delighted customer who bought the product on the sales page. The woman loved the product and said she had felt like the sales page was speaking right to her.
Proof that this works!
If you’re not selling a product and don’t have testimonials from clients, there are still lots of other ways that you can find the language that your audience uses.
For example, you can use mental telepathy. Ha, no, just kidding.
But you can visit websites like Quora and search for the questions people ask about your topic. Or you can read Amazon reviews of books related to your topic or hang out in Facebook groups or study the comments people leave on your blog posts.
Another fantastic exercise is to consider how you would have talked about the topic a few years earlier when you were a complete beginner too.
Step #3: Get a second pair of eyes on your work
Whether you’re writing words for your website or a sales page or for a blog post, it’s always best to have someone else read your work and give you feedback. They can tell you if your words are clear or confusing.
Try to pick someone who would be in your target audience. Ask them if there are any words or phrases that are vague? Or any that they don’t understand?
Do the words convince them to buy or to take whatever action you’re trying to persuade the reader to take (sign up for an email list, change their opinion, etc.)? Or do they just leave them feeling “meh”?
If there are words that trip them up, explain out loud to your friend what you were trying to say until your friend starts nodding their head in understanding.
Replace your confusing words with those simpler words. Often, when we talk out loud, we use much more conversational language. (Check out my guide here for more tips on how to write conversationally.)
If you don’t have a friend who can read your piece and give you feedback, I recommend putting it aside for at least a day. When you read a piece after a day has passed, you are usually able to examine it more objectively.
This is a tip I learned from Neil Gaiman,
The best advice I can give on this is, once it’s done, to put it away until you can read it with new eyes. When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before.
In his book This is Marketing, Seth Godin writes that if you want to connect emotionally with your audience, you must
Match the worldview of the people being served. Show up in the world with a story that they want to hear, told in a language they’re eager to understand.
By eliminating confusing jargon and paying attention to the words your audience uses, you’ll be speaking their language. You’ll be able to more effectively and persuasively communicate your message and win the trust of your readers.
How do you discover the language of your target audience? Let me know in the comments.
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