Jargon awareness

The key to avoiding jargon is to be aware of what words you use that are not familiar to your audience.


  1. Write 2-3 sentences describing what work you do (or what you’d like to explain to an audience).
  2. Type those sentences into the “upgoer5 text editor” found here
  3. Replace any (red) underlined words with more commonly-used synonyms. You may find the sentence needs some restructuring to give it a similar meaning.
    For example:
    Replace any (red) underlined words with more commonly-used synonyms.
    could become
    Change any words with (red) lines under them with words that people use the most often.
  4.  You now have a short passage that does not use jargon of any kind. In fact, it draws from a list of the ten hundred most used words in the English language.

I like to say your sentence is now “upgoer5 worthy.”

What is this tool?

In 2012, former NASA worker Randall Munroe who runs a cartoon series called XKCD, published a drawing of the Saturn V rocketexplained using only the ten hundred words people use the most often.” He called it the “upgoer5”. This inspired biologist Theo Sanderson to create, in 2013, the “upgoer5 text editor” you just used. Various scientists shared this via Twitter and encouraged others to take the “upgoer5 challenge” to translate their work into those “words that people use most often.” Hilarity, and learning, ensued. Or rather, to be upgoer5 worthy, many people had fun and learned about how they talk.

Read, in Theo Sanderson’s own words, how the upgoer5 text editor works.

How is this useful?

Upgoer5 makes you aware of what words you use that are literally uncommon to the largest number of (adult) English speakers. Brutally aware. Perhaps frustratingly aware.

Upgoer5 shatters your jargon into the clusters of words that unpackage the meaning. With awareness of how many concepts are packaged into jargon words (or short phrases or acronyms), it becomes easier, with practice, to choose words that your audience finds more familiar.

This helps you break down the jargon barrier between you and your audience I wrote of previously.

So … I can only use ten hundred words when I speak?

Of course not. Most speakers of English who draw on a vocabulary of over 10,000 words, and most adults use many more. But jargon words are not spoken commonly – that’s what makes them jargon.  Upgoer5 builds your skill of rephrasing jargon so you can more easily prepare talks understood by audiences who do not normally speak with you and your peers.

Oh, and upgoer5 is the list of “ten hundred” most common words in the English language because the word “thousand” is not in that list!

Image credit: National Academy of Sciences
©2017-2018, DJG Communications LLC

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