A word about using jargon

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The nuclear power industry, like most others, is ripe with jargon and unique acronyms. We made up words long ago and keep them alive through daily use. Despite that, they still have no presence in modern dictionaries. Don’t let your mod packages suffer needlessly from jargon bloat . . . .

Not only are there excessive acronyms, but the same acronym can refer to different systems or processes entirely, depending on the context. For example, “CCS” can refer to either a component cooling system or a containment cooling system. To complicate matters further, different acronyms can refer to the same thing. “RHR” stands for residual heat removal, and “DHR” stands for decay heat removal. Decay heat and residual heat are the same thing, but depending on who you are talking to and what engineering firm built a particular plant, you may hear the terms interchangeably.

A fresh college graduate will be bombarded with these phrases immediately upon showing up for his or her first day of work. New engineers hired into the industry for the first time are essentially members of the public. Fresh college graduates can serve either on the side of the contractor preparing the mod packages or on the side of the plant as a system, design, or other engineer who will read and review the mod package.

People may review the mod package who do not have an engineering background, such as those in information technology. The IT people spend their lives immersed in the world of LANs, WANs, programming languages, and other computer-and-network-related areas. They are usually responsible for keeping up with the cyber security program, so they review mod packages that have cyber security concerns. They receive nuclear training too, but they probably aren’t as familiar with the engineering jargon and the acronyms as the engineers are.


NRC Chairman Allison MacFarlane has this to say about nuclear power industry jargon:

Although, I’m new to the NRC, I do have a Ph.D. in geology, and an extensive background in nuclear policy issues. So, if I am bewildered by all these acronyms, imagine how a random member of the public would feel. And if the public can’t understand what we are saying, how can we expect them to have confidence in what we do? 

For these reasons, you should use jargon and acronyms sparingly and strategically. Always write out an acronym upon first use. It is better to write it out several times before resorting solely to its acronym. This makes the reader familiar with the term. By the time you start using the acronym (if it’s a frequently-used term), you want the reader to be thinking “It’s about time.” You don’t want them to think “What does that stand for, again? I hate having to scroll back to the first page.” Your goal is to improve reading comprehension, not reduce it.

The purpose of technical communication is to communicate complex concepts and technical information clearly to a technical audience. Depending on the audience, jargon can do that. But when jargon is thrown around haphazardly so that its specific meaning becomes diluted among a sea of other important-sounding buzzwords, it’s time to back off.

An example is the word “interface.” It makes sense when you are talking about interfacing a gas analyzer to a transformer, but it becomes an absurdity when you talk about whether two people are interfacing with each other effectively. People talk to each other, people communicate with each other, people listen to each other and have conversations with each other; they don’t interface with each other in a business setting — usually.