"Your wits are your only weapon here." Photo by Krista Kennedy, Flickr CC.
“Your wits are your only weapon in here.” Photo by Krista Kennedy, Flickr CC.

“What, precisely, does one use to slay jargon?” Dave asked.

“My wits!”

“That’s not… jargon-y.”

“Okay, I utilize the methodology inculcated by years of carefully calibrated pedagogical approaches…”

[seething annoyance] “Stop it.” [/seething annoyance]

Being a jargon-slayer essentially means being your “educated dummy friend.” I am the non-specialist who will read your piece and point out the words and concepts that are second nature to you (and to those in your specialized field), but mean nothing to me. Occasionally, I’ll point an accusatory finger at even those words I do know, because I want you to explain them to me. If you can use different words, why not? Again, if you’ve got a good reason, move on, nothing to see here. But, say, “utilize” vs. “use”? The difference is so subtle that, unless you can convince me that you need to show the way in which something or some concept has been specifically put into service as a tool, “use” will do just fine, thank you.

When you strip your work of jargon, you get two great benefits:

  1. A much more concise piece of writing in which the argument can truly shine. More people will learn from this paper and put its notions into action.
  2. The chance to thoughtfully use your jargon, calling out terms you’ve coined or using careful repetition to quietly underscore a point or craft a through-line in your argument.

Jargon is too often a crutch (academic short-hand that jams entire concepts into a single word or phrase) or a shield (big words that deflect rebuttal by being obtuse and lending a false veneer of legitimacy—see also “turd polishing”). Strip it away. See what you’ve got. Stand behind that.

About Letta Page

I am a disarmingly earnest editor, translator of academia, nonfiction revisionary, and domesticated roustabout. More professionally, I might say: I am the senior managing editor of Contexts, founding associate editor and producer of The Society Pages, and a sociology editor, jargon-slayer, and “book doula” for hire. My specialty is in helping authors identify and hone their arguments in ways their target audiences can both understand and use. In this way, I’m a translator, consultant, writing coach, and editor all in one. The senior managing editor of Contexts magazine (the public outreach journal of the American Sociological Association), I have more than two decades’ experience in academic editing across a range of disciplines. I’ve edited and written copy for publications from Oxford University Press, Routledge, Taylor & Francis, W.W. Norton, the University of Chicago Press, Cambridge University Press, Stanford University Press, and many others, including dozens of journals. Today, I specialize in sociology and, as a sort of fun “palate cleanser” (trust me, when you’re editing books on neoliberalism and genocide, it’s always good to have a fallback), I write copy for organizations like Stand Up! Records. I also have a background in the visual arts and was a founder of First Amendment Arts (now Co-Exhibitions) in Minneapolis, MN. I hold degrees in history and classical studies from Boston University and an art degree from the University of Minnesota, and I enjoy most of the things you can imagine Rose from The Golden Girls counts among her hobbies. I received the University of Minnesota’s Public Sociology Award, for outstanding contributions to the discipline and public conversation, in 2019. My truly lovely husband, Josh Page, is a professor of sociology and law at the University of Minnesota, as well as a food writer and founder of Meal magazine. He’s a great writer, and I’m so happy to work alongside him in print and in life.

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