For anyone who has encountered a subject matter expert (SME) in virtually any field, you may have picked up on some complicated language, even words you may understand, but not in the way they are being used. This is commonly referred to as Jargon. Oxford defines it as “special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.”
Today, I want to share five steps for decoding industry jargon. More, how these tips will be useful across multiple industries, allowing you to be an effective content writer regardless of the field.
I highly recommend creating a separate word doc, maybe title it ‘Industry Jargon’ so you can quickly reference this material for later use. Quick side note, this list would also be useful for coworkers, so consider sending out your findings. This will help others struggling with these terms, but it will also give you an opportunity to check your work. Make sure your ultimate findings align with your coworkers (if that is a possibility).
First, you need to identify the specific word or phrase in question, along with the context the word is used in. I like to also make a note of the industry I am working in at the time. I do this because each industry will of course have its own unique jargon entries, but you may notice that some of the words or acronyms are the exact same. It will save you an infinite amount of mental-tortue to clearly define the industry. Otherwise, you will be stuck trying to remember what word goes with what industry, and succeed only in obscuring your understanding.
Next, let’s turn this over to our favorite search engine… Google. The problem is carefully defining your search query. I recommend dropping in the specific word or phrase in questions, but then couple that with the industry. So, if you’re looking at highly specific components used in microelectronics consider adding electrical or computer engineering in your search. This will prove even more helpful when you run into custom peripherals, especially those created for the specific process you are trying to document. Google will help filter through the surface level jargon that can easily be defined, but let’s move on now to the next level for the more complicated examples.
Sometimes the only place you’ll find your answer is at the source, but “the source” could easily be out of reach. Luckily, in our Information Era we are able find videos of nearly anything… including interviews. Youtube is the answer. Here we will try to find the best examples of SMEs discussing this material in length. If we are lucky we will hear the word or phrase in video, and that will provide even more context for us to define the word ourselves. Otherwise, if it’s not mentioned specifically, we will simply use the context from the video to better research the word or phrase. I recommend jotting down a couple of keywords throughout the video(s) and then going back to Google to add those keywords into the search. The result will provide even more information and the answer will likely be there.
At this point we will likely have a rough idea of the meaning behind the SMEs use of the word or phrase in question. Now, we will attempt some exercises to use the word in our own sentences. This is only for your benefit (and possibly your coworkers if you send it out). The goal is to get a better “feel” for the word, using it in your own words takes its meaning out of the theoretical and places it into the applied physical. That may seem complicated, but it really isn’t… all we are doing is articulating our research onto the page. And the physical is oftentimes easier to comprehend than the theoretical.
So, we have gone through the process of identifying the words/phrases, researching the available information out there (both documents and videos), and even drafted some examples of the word used in our own sentences. The next step is the hardest step for some, but the easiest for others. Next, we have to TRUST OUR GUTS. Or instincts, 6th sense, third-eye… whatever. We are at the point where a judgement call must be made. And, like any situation with a right and wrong answer, we could get it wrong. However, the chances of that are dramatically reduced depending on the amount of time we spend with the above process. We get what we put in here… just like everywhere else.
Should a slip up occur and the correct answer not be reached, we simply go back, correct the error, and move on!
Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to decoding the complicated jargon used by SMEs in every industry!
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Next week we will continue our Industry Jargon discussion with some examples of decoded jargon and some pitfalls to avoid when using this five step process.
Since you were so kind to make it to the end of this blog post, I felt the need to give you just a little bit more insight into decoding these often complicated industry jargon terms. Wikipedia (please donate, the website is asking for help, and I know its pulled me out of tight jams enough times, so please donate if you are able to) offers both broad overviews and step-by-step breakdowns. More, the reference section at the bottom of the articles is a great additional resource. Consider looking into any of these titles for more information. And Google Scholar, of course they don’t offer the access of premier scholarly resources like JSTOR, but nevertheless solid, peer-reviewed articles and studies can be found here. The likes of which are teeming with enough insight to make a subject matter expert out of you in virtually any industry!
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