By avoiding jargon, do we risk missing the point?

Isabelle Kermeen

Communications Manager, Integrity Action

We just published a new animation to explain what we do.

Watch it here. It's 80 seconds long and aims to capture our approach as concisely as possible. So it may come as a surprise to learn that some key words related to our field of work (social accountability in international development), like transparency and accountability... don't appear even once in the animation.

Is this a good or a bad thing?

Limiting jargon, using inclusive and accessible language, simplifying how we communicate – there’s nothing we won’t try in order to get our message across to our key audiences. But where do we draw the line? After all, we don’t want to dumb the message down unnecessarily, and it’s important to show we know what we are talking about, to be taken seriously.

While making efforts to simplify the way to communicate, we have learned – through feedback – that people in our sector do appreciate jargon-free language, including our donors and peers.

Indeed, pushing ourselves to find new ways to express concepts like accountability and transparency has been a good exercise. It has helped us to actually explain these things better, as it helps us get to the core of what we really mean.

Accountability is in itself a difficult word. It is ubiquitous in our sector but the way in which it is used can vary. Although we can use this term without qualms when we talk about what we do, we have found that many people find it more engaging when we use language like 'comparing what's promised with what's delivered'.

It has given us a clear explainer animation, and we hope it has given us a clear website. But on this journey it has also been crucial to consider things like search engine optimization (SEO) – ensuring the content on our website makes it easy to find in search engines.

So far so good for simple language. But what if technical terms are an inherent part of the field you work in?

Our work is in enabling citizens to demand that institutions and power holders act with integrity and deliver what was promised, and to support communities in holding them to account, which roughly falls under social accountability. Our work does need to make sense to people in that field.

We must also consider the need for our website to be found, via search engines, by our target audience – which is primarily people in the international development sector, rather than the general public. Excluding sector-specific terms could work against us here.

So, in our approach to search engine optimization we have attempted to find the perfect balance: simple, clear language, supported by explanations which do include technical terms to some extent.

As we go from our website launch to tracking statistics, we will see how this works out. Meanwhile it would be interesting to hear what others think. Do you have any gems of wisdom to share, or any similar challenges to bemoan? Drop us a line on isabelle.kermeen@integrityaction.org or reply to this tweet.