We’ve spent some time building up a workable process for defining jargon as you encounter it throughout your documentation process, but i’d like to take this conversation to the next level (I think we’re ready for it). Let’s talk about what to do after you have a “working” definition— here are 3 Strategies for Managing Jargon, including how to effectively build narratives and close the loop on process alterations to ensure you are writing the most concise, technically driven content possible!
It all starts with Proper Information Management. This goes back to the list created last week to keep track of those jargon entries. You will need to create a separate document, or even an Excel spreadsheet. A spreadsheet will let you build individual tabs for each industry, while keeping everything in the same place, but more on that later. The simplest version of this file is a Word document, just make sure you are clearly defining the various inputs you will need: entry, context, industry, etc. This is a preferable method for writers who work in niche-specific industries.
If you find yourself switching between multiple industries, the spreadsheet option is definitely the way to go. I recommend building out tabs for each industry, merging cells to make the information easy to view, and then leaving this file open while you are conducting research— making sure to spend the time with each jargon entry, building out the contents for future reference.
This will slow down your initial read through of subject material, but will have you drafting new content faster. No longer will you be forced to rifle through loose-paper entries or simply rely on memory alone!
Before long, you’ll have quite the extensive list. This list can easily become unruly, making the contents of it hard to effectively use. If this happens, you are more likely to duplicate an entry, leading to more confusion later. Luckily, if you remember to Note Available Context from the original jargon entry, you’ll be more likely to grab the right definition without a lot of legwork. This “available context” material needs to be something from the original source that will indicate to you the situation of this specific entry. You may be thinking, how is this different from labeling the specific word or phrase? An entry can be so unique that any definition may only apply in one situation, whereas the context is a representation of that specific interaction of the word (how it is used, will help indicate to you how to best use it in the future). Failing to note these small, minute details could easily result in crossed wires, where the definition of one word is used for another… resulting in confusion, rewrites, and in some industries (when the stakes are high) outright project failure.
I like to remind people that technical writing is easy, the hard part is doing all of the preparation work (RESEARCH) required to communicate concisely.
It’s easy to forget a technical writer’s role, they are required to clearly communicate a step-by-step process for producing any number of outcomes. Part of that clear communication starts with a Definition of Terms. I recommend, when character count limits allow, using the space to write out definitions in full. A quick example of it can be, “Department of Defense (DoD),” this follows the traditional MLA format. You will likely encounter projects that demand different formats, so make sure you are adhering to the Style Guide outlined in the project.
There is no point in doing all of the legwork to come up with workable definitions if you aren’t going to clue your audience in with those specifics. This is frustrating for anyone who is tasked with following the documented process. Always consider your audience, especially when editing.
That’s going to wrap-up our initial discussion for dealing with jargon as it’s used by subject matter experts (SMEs) across all industries. I’d like to take a quick moment to encourage all of you to ask questions in the comments. If there is anything that comes up, I don’t mind doing a follow-up blog to address any questions. Otherwise, we are going to change gears and talk about some outside resources. Including an in-depth booklist that I would encourage every new writer (and experienced for that matter) to read through. Here we will be equipped with the tools necessary to communicate virtually any process!
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So, since you’ve made it here to the very bottom of this post, I want to reward you with a little extra insight. We are pleased to announce formal talks have begun to expand this little blog into a podcast! The podcast will serve as both a companion to the normal blog, but also as a stand-alone! Check here for more details coming soon!
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