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Technical language refers to written or oral communication that has specialized content. The product specification for a new microprocessor, a financial presentation by a senior executive and a design meeting for a new medical device are all examples of technical communication. Everyday language involves using common business terms, such as "strategy" and "schedule," that everybody understands. The differences between technical and everyday language center on the use of jargon and assumptions about the audience. However, there are some benefits to the use of technical language over everyday language.
The Use of Jargon
The main difference between technical and everyday language is the use of jargon. Jargon refers to abbreviations, technical buzzwords and convoluted constructions. There is usually too much of it in technical language, and it could complicate otherwise simple concepts or sound like gibberish and leave the audience confused. Jargon can make people feel excluded and not want to engage. While some jargon use might be intentional, perhaps to communicate an air of superiority, technical language users are often unaware that their audience cannot grasp the core message. Everyday language is usually jargon-free, although group members might use technical terms that everybody in the group understands.
Assumptions of Knowledge Level
Technical language users assume a certain audience knowledge level. For example, an executive who is presenting at an analysts' meeting can assume that the audience is knowledgeable about the industry. However, the analysts cannot assume the same level of knowledge when preparing research reports for their clients. They must use everyday language in these reports to justify their opinions and buy-sell recommendations. Misplaced assumptions can also cause problems in written products, such as user manuals and how-to guides, because writers sometimes overestimate the audience's technical expertise. What may seem obvious to a technical writer might be perplexing to the everyday consumer.
The Context of Language
The context for technical and everyday language use is different. Technical language seeks to communicate specifics to a particular concept or industry, such as software or machinery, while everyday language is usually more general. A chief executive uses technical language in a financial presentation to research analysts but uses everyday language when speaking to employees and shareholders at the company's annual general meeting. Written communication offers more flexibility because footnotes, charts and other supporting material can help explain complex technical concepts.
Use in Shareholder Communications
Annual reports, regulatory disclosures and other documents require both technical and everyday language. Management must communicate complex technical and financial details in such a way that all shareholders understand the basics. This means packaging technical concepts in everyday "what" and "why" language so that readers understand their relevance to the company's performance. It also means using examples, diagrams and personal anecdotes to explain complex concepts.
Benefits of Technical Language
While there are certainly disadvantages and perils of using jargon, when used in the right context and audience, jargon can be the best way to explain complicated and difficult concepts. Certain fields like medicine and the law have jargon to enhance communication between members of the profession. Moreover, it can help enhance credibility with stakeholders in a way that everyday language cannot. It can also be used intentionally because other people cannot understand it. For instance, the police have special codes to help them conduct their work effectively and without hindrance and is not known to the general public.
Move to Simplifying Language
Several industries are trying to make the move to reduce jargon and using plain language so that it is accessible by more people. For instance, in the legal profession, plain language may help reduce contract negotiations, help judges in their rulings, help to better clarify laws and more.
Based in Ottawa, Canada, Chirantan Basu has been writing since 1995. His work has appeared in various publications and he has performed financial editing at a Wall Street firm. Basu holds a Bachelor of Engineering from Memorial University of Newfoundland, a Master of Business Administration from the University of Ottawa and holds the Canadian Investment Manager designation from the Canadian Securities Institute.