Remove the jargon delivery programme, going forward

Terms such as 'mapping minimum datasets' and 'social pedagogy' should be dropped in favour of plain English, says Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

Is it too much to ask that people write and talk in plain English? Healthcare, the area in which I work, is a serial offender. "Portable care pathways", "patch-basing" and "co-morbidity" are just a few choice examples. It's all Greek to me.

It is a sad world in which "baseline reviews" have got nothing at all to do with tennis and where making choices requires the use of "decision- support toolkits".

I have also long lost my appetite for the alphabet soup of unexplained acronyms so beloved of people who have lost touch with their inner child.

My pet hate is when people talk about service "delivery". As far as I'm concerned, they can offer or provide a service, but they cannot usually deliver it, unless it's meals on wheels. And while we're at it, people who provide such services should also stop talking about their caseload: it implies their beneficiaries are a burden. If people really do think like that, perhaps they are in the wrong jobs.

Here's another non-favourite: counting the number of service users is referred to as "mapping minimum datasets". Very impersonal.

In the run-up to the Olympics, I shall cringe every time sports coaches use "to medal' as a verbal phrase, which they will do a great deal. One can also see how, thanks to its very vagueness, one phrase is not helping its practical application: "big society".

By far the worst offenders, however, are researchers. Do they write their papers in impenetrable jargon because they think it will impress people, or are they just incompetent communicators? From "social pedagogy" and "intra-dyadic agreement" through to "meta-study as a form of meta-synthesis" and even "(human) maternal kangaroo care intervention studies", they are not covering themselves in glory.

Like King Canute standing against the tide, I challenge jargon wherever I discover it. I also write a plain English version of our strategy on one piece of paper, for all our staff and service users.

From emails to strategic plans, the wise writer doesn't try to impress the reader with everything he or she knows, but focuses only on what the reader needs to know, and renders this information clearly.

Equal opportunities is another area awash with ghastly phrases such as "diversity delivery platforms". Often there is a level of intrusion that almost invites perverse replies. One form asked me to declare what I was allergic to. Opera and jazz, I replied.

Sometimes, however, the problem isn't jargon, but inattention to detail. Years ago, when I was applying for a fundraising and marketing job with a charity, I sent in my application with a covering letter in which I modestly claimed to be an expert in public relations. After I had posted it, I read my copy again and I realised, to my considerable horror, that I had styled myself "expert in pubic relations".

I didn't get an interview, you won't be too surprised to learn.

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

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