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Scicomm Tips

Down With Jargon

The funniest (to me) moment of my experience with chemotherapy in 2020 was hearing my oncologist tell the nurses to get me some “oral cryotherapy.” This sounds very fancy and technical, right? Except he was asking them to get me a cup of ice.

Doctors aren’t the only specialists who are guilty of peppering their speech and writing with phrases that make perfect sense to them but are humorous (at best) or incomprehensible (at worst) to outsiders. Here are some edits I suggested to a blog post by an ornithologist that crossed my desk several years ago:

OriginalMy Suggestion
“function as proxies”“be good stand-ins”
“temporal changes”“changes over time”
“more mesic habitat”“wetter habitat”
“interspecific differences”“differences between species”
“interannual variability”“variation between years”
“proximate explanation”“immediate explanation”

Most of these would be fine in a scientific paper, written for an audience of other scientists. If you want your blog post to be accessible to a broader audience, though, I’d argue that you’re often better off using simpler language, even if it means sacrificing some precision of meaning. What do you think? Are there any particular examples of unnecessary jargon that drive you nuts?

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