Something I do in my day job a lot is read. I read tons of documents from peer reviewed publications, a bit less from periodicals like IEEE S&P, ACM Communications etc, and finally I get sucked into reading some vendor white papers / marketing crap. The density and value of the information in these documents decreases in the order that I’ve listed them while the amount of useless jargon increases.
I write a tech-report or a proposal every once in a while myself and I’ve found that the things I read have a significant impact on how I write. Similarly I’ll get asked to “provide comments” on a document prepared by someone else from time to time. This may sound strange but in reading something written by one of my peers I get a glimpse of what they’ve been reading too,
This past week I was asked to give someone feedback on a paper that’s still in draft form. I had very few issues with this paper technically. It had some pretty crazy punctuation and there were gramatical errors but it’s just a draft so I made note of them in my comments.
Now I’m no Shakespeare. I’ve made the same mistakes that I was commenting on for this document and that’s why we ask other people to read these things before we send them out into the community … But there are some things that I cannot excuse.
Toward the end of the document the author was noticeably fatigued and he started using jargon. I was about to make a note of how this jargon was meaningless and that the sentence could stand on its own without said jargon when I started to feel bad. Was I being too harsh? Was I just tired and sick of reviewing this document on a Friday at 5:30 when all I really wanted to be on my way home? So I threw the jargonic phrase in question into Google to see if the internets thought this was jargon as well. The first hit from this search had me laughing for a good minute. Follow the link, it speaks for itself.
So I concluded this was jargon after all 🙂 I don’t want this post to be interpreted as some commentary on writing style or our use of the English language in professional writing. I don’t have anything new to add there. If you care about effective communication read Orwell. If you’ve read this blog before (hell if you’re reading this post) you likely know that my writing can be as crappy as the next guys … just do me a favor and stay away from the jargon. It’s what separates us engineers from the marketing department.