Saturday, October 16, 2004

Winning the Battle Against Library Jargon

Anyone writing copy for library newsletters, Web sites or other publications should read "Start Making Sense" by Ann Wylie (Public Relations Tactics, October 2004, vol. 11, issue 10, p. 17). You can read the print version or read the full text online in Business Source Premier (Ohioans can read the full text of Tactics and thousands of other magazines and journals through their school, public or academic library. I fear that few Ohioans know this or realize how cool it is).

Most librarians and library staff realize that there is a ton of jargon in library-land which we need to avoid using. I think there are also a lot of terms that we think users understand, which they really don't. The real harm with jargon is that it alienates your audience. According to Wylie it also:

* Makes your copy longer.
* Forces the reader to work harder.
* Makes it harder for the media to use your information.
* Illustrates that your organization may be in trouble.
* Demonstrates your ignorance.

Wylie offers three steps to clear communication:

* Define your audience

You can get away with using industry-specific jargon in trade publications and with insiders, but not with your outside audiences.

* Rethink definitions. The most common way to define terms on first reference is: "Unfamiliar term, familiar term ...." This is not the most friendly way.

*Use the B2B test.

Wylie describes the B2B (is it just me, or is this one of the most annoying examples of business jargon in existence?) test as going to trade publications' Web sites and searching for questionable terms to determine if they are jargon or not. You can adapt this test by searching local media sites for terms you use in your press releases. You can also search sites relevant to perspective audiences, or simply question audience members if they understand your terms are not. If not, don't use them!

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