“Translate” Your Research and Ideas by Eliminating Jargon

Guest post by Kevin Anselmo

All of us can also resonate with meeting “that” person at a networking event. We ask what he or she does and instead of engaging in a conversation, we need to endure a monologue. Our new acquaintance bores us to tears with abstract ideas as we look for a quick escape route to a new conversation.

As a communicator working in the business education space, I have witnessed too many painful media interviews. This happens when the poor journalist has to endure an academic ramble on and on, using lots of jargon and communicating ideas that are of little use to the journalists’ readers. Any communicator who has worked in business education can probably resonate with this.

There are many reasons why these two above scenarios take place. One of the major causes is the enemy of jargon. This is tricky as often times we think everyone knows certain terms and phrases because we use them in various circles on a regular basis. This is particularly the case when communicating research. In my opinion, there is also an unspoken perception among some that bigger words means we are smart and intellectual.

It is actually quite the contrary, my friends. I believe that the ability to communicate complex ideas in a clear and concise way is an intellectually rigorous process. If you scroll through the New York Times best-selling non-fiction authors, you will see a commonality: they all are able to communicate in a clear and engaging way. Ditto for many of the experts and thought leaders that are frequently quoted in the media within the niches we follow.

One commonality of effective academic communicators is that they use the 3 S’s – be short, simple and integrate stories – to combat jargon. Duke Professor Campbell Harvey, a former colleague who is particularly adept at communicating complex ideas to the media, noted the following when I asked for his advice on interacting with journalists: “What I usually do is to compare a complicated situation to a simple situation that the audience can understand. For example, in explaining the largest heist in history, the Mt. Gox bitcoin theft, I said that ‘Mt. Gox was like your community bank … except there were no tellers or security personnel, no cameras, and a vault full of cash with the door wide open.’”

This is a great example of being short, simple and using a story to make a point. You might not know much about the Mt. Gox bitcoin theft, but surely this example can give you a fairly good idea about what was involved.

As you think about communicating your research, what are the short and simple stories that you can use? This question could also be considered when communicating other key institutional priorities, like a program or initiative. Your audiences will appreciate you answering this question, and you will likely see greater impact from your efforts.

Kevin Anselmo is the Founder of Experiential Communications, a consultancy primarily serving the higher education and research communities. Learn about his new online program: The Research Translation Writing Course (http://www.researchtranslationwritingcourse.com/). Readers of this blog post can use the promo code “efmdspecialdiscount” when checking out to receive a 15% discount off the price of the programs. Contact Kevin (kevin@experientialcommunications.com) if you would be interested in licensing such a program within your institution.