Rocks in water at night with galaxy sky


What is jargon?

For scientists, jargon is any word or phrase that loses or changes meaning when you use it with people who aren’t in your field (or the sciences).

Remember, there is almost always a less-technical way to say things. Your audience isn’t your classroom or a group of your colleagues. They’re there to learn, yes, but shouldn’t have to first learn a litany of phrases that will then allow them to understand your science. Typically, audiences don’t respond well to jargon and will likely be less engaged. Below, we’ve outlined a few tips for identifying and avoiding jargon.


Ways to avoid jargon

  • Would someone at a ninth-grade reading level understand you? Jargon is field specific. If your next-door neighbor, your friend from high school, or anyone else without a science background can’t understand what you’re talking about, rephrase your message.
  • To peers, acronyms can be a helpful time saver. But they can quickly alienate an outside audience. Think about how those with non-scientific backgrounds will hear your message, and when in doubt, spell it out.
  • Does a particular word have multiple meanings? Does it have different meanings for scientists and public? Download our guide on popular science vocabulary with dual meanings to help you identify them and avoid potential confusion.
  • How many syllables are in that word? Geomorphology? Nope. Hydrostatic equilibrium? Never heard of it. Long, complicated words in science are often necessary, but when talking to outside audiences they can be intimidating. Replace them with brief explanations of the concept, process or field of study.
  • How do you simplify your message? Use Upgoer 5, a fun tool that limits you to 1,000 most-used words, to practice simplifying your message. At the end of the day, you want people to understand you. Don’t think of it as “dumbing down” your science but as “expanding your audience.”
Sunrising over ice and snow covered stream

Request a workshop

AGU offers interactive science communication workshops around the country. Our full- or half-day workshops provide scientists with skills and best practices in science communication and outreach.
Book Now