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Don’t do it!

by Shari Graydon

It hardly seems fair: you spend years in school, mastering the impenetrable jargon necessary to earn the degree or qualify for the professional designation.

And then someone (ok, that would be me — backed up by thousands of journalists and plain language advisors across the country) tells you to lose the language that demonstrates your expertise.

The thing is, it’s a tragic waste of time and energy to provide commentary about critical issues if the analysis isn’t accessible to the people you’re trying to reach. And the specialized vocabulary used by lawyers, scientists and professors of all disciplines is often completely incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t share the education.

I understand the reluctance to  “dumb down” one’s writing; nobody wants to be seen as lacking intellectual heft or gravitas by her colleagues.

But given the serious potential consequences of all sorts of complex situations, we desperately need those delivering important insights to be able to communicate in a way that’s clear to as many people as possible.

I became a regular newspaper columnist while working to complete a master’s degree. My editor, who really wanted to avoid sending readers of his page into eyes-glaze-over mode, occasionally had to remind me to save the references to systemic oppression and hegemony for my thesis. Fifteen years – and countless other editorial interventions since – I’ve become much better at policing my own language.

But I still have someone else read every piece I write in draft form before I submit it for public consumption. (It wasn’t in the marriage contract, but he’s very obliging.)

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