When writing, it is important to define jargon early so you don’t waste readers’ time. This page explains why you should do so, and gives examples of what can go wrong if you don’t do so.



Examples of not defining jargon early

Let us take the article “Digital Sharecropping: The Most Dangerous Threat to Your Online Marketing” as an example. Since I’m largely in agreement with the content of the article, my criticism of it is mainly with how the content is sequenced. As evident in the title, the article introduces the jargon “digital sharecropping”. The reader is forced to go through roughly 200 words before “digital sharecropping” actually appears in the article, and the term is only explained in the section following the introduction, “What’s digital sharecropping, anyway?” Since the idea is rather simple, it would have been better to define the term at the beginning, and to continue the argument after the definition.

To take another example, see “Everyone is Obsessed” by Jean Fan. The title introduces the jargon “everyone is obsessed”—I consider it a form of jargon because it isn’t obvious what is meant by the phrase. The article begins by talking about how she began watching more movies, for about 350 words. Only then do we get a hint of the idea conveyed in the title: “After all, I aspire to be obsessed with learning how to think, and all good movie characters are exceptionally obsessive.” After 630 words, we finally get the main idea: “And regardless of whether or not I or society endorses what different people are obsessed with, the fact is that everyone is obsessed.”

Why do people not define their jargon early?

My guess is that writers tend not to define their jargon early due to inertia and concern that readers won’t take them seriously if they just list their main points—so they resort to trying to “lure” readers in.

“Examples first” versus “define then discuss”

In pedagogy, there is an analogous distinction between an “examples first” approach and a “define then discuss” approach. In other words, “start the article then define jargon” is analogous to “examples first”; similarly “define jargon then go in-depth” is analogous to “define then discuss”.