People are put off by jargon and there is no getting around it.

All of the sciences are replete with specialized terms. Those in a specific academic discipline sometimes resort to jargon as a badge of belonging. Those new to a field are often more enthusiastic about jargon as a way to show their credentials.

Conversely, jargon is off-putting to the average reader. “The use of difficult, specialized words are a signal that tells people that they don’t belong,” said American communication scholar Hillary Shulman. “You can tell them what the terms mean, but it doesn’t matter. They already feel like that this message isn’t for them.”

“Giving people definitions doesn’t matter at all. It has no effect on how difficult people think the reading is.”

Readers of material filled with jargon feel unqualified. “Exposure to jargon leads people to report things like ‘I’m not really good at science,’ ‘I’m not interested in learning about science,’ and ‘I’m not well qualified to participate in science discussions,'” Shulman said.

Conversely, readers spared of specialized terms feel empowered. “They are more likely to say they understood what they read because they were a science kind of person, that they liked science and considered themselves knowledgeable.”

There is a more sinister side to jargon-spiced information: people positively spurn it. Encountering jargon leads people to disbelieve the science because they don’t like what they are reading.


Hillary C. Shulman et al, “The effects of jargon on processing fluency, self-perceptions, and scientific engagement,” Journal of Language and Social Psychology (29 January 2020).

The use of jargon kills people’s interest in science, politics,” ScienceDaily (12 February 2020).

Olivia M. Bullock et al, “Jargon as a barrier to effective science communication: evidence from metacognition,” Public Understanding of Science (28 July 2019).