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Eliminating Jargon

(This is part of a larger series on winning admission to a top MBA program.)

The use of jargon in your MBA application essay gets in the way of the story you’re telling. When you’re writing your essay, jargon may seem like the only way to express your point or a good way to impress the reader, but it almost always has the effect of making your meaning unclear or needlessly abstract. You never want an admissions essay reader to stop and ask, “What does he mean here?” or, “What was it that she was really doing?”

Here are some easy tips for identifying and removing jargon from your essay.

What is jargon?

Jargon is like code. It consists of words and phrases that have specific meanings within an industry or company, but unclear meanings outside that group. Often, it is formal or technical language. (Never mind that jargon often consists of newly coined phrases – e.g. “leverage” – or needlessly complicated words – e.g. “utilize” instead of “use”). Every major industry – tech, banking, consulting, healthcare, government – has its own jargon.

Writers sometimes use jargon to signal that they have a certain expertise or are “in the know.” But when writing for an audience outside your industry, jargon has a tendency to take specific things and generalize them, which is precisely the opposite of what you want to do in an admissions essay. You want to give a reader a clear sense of who you are and what you have done.

A common example of jargon

Here’s an example of jargon I see often from consultants:

In my role, I had to drive deliverables quickly through the work stream in order to achieve the results.

Many of your colleagues and superiors would understand immediately what this sentence means. But to people outside the company or the industry, this statement is confusing.

What do you mean by “deliverables” and by “work stream?” What results did you actually achieve? In this case, you want to explain clearly how you worked harder to accomplish a specific goal, and why it mattered.

If you describe the skills you used at your job and show how they impacted your performance, your story becomes far more compelling. Your reader understands exactly what you did and gets insight into how you think. You become more relatable, and your essay becomes stronger. Jargon can never do this for you.

Better would be to re-write your achievement as follows:

Under great time pressure, I conducted an analysis of the client’s Q1 financial results and opportunities for cost savings. The client agreed to a $2M follow-on project to implement our suggestions.

How you can identify and avoid jargon in your essay

I like to remind my clients to think before they write. You cannot write clearly if you do not know what it is that you want to say. This is hard work: you may not be used to thinking about your work achievements in any other terms than jargon. But by putting in this effort yourself, you make it easier on the reader to understand what you’re trying to say.

Once you have drafted an essay, give yourself a break from it for a day. Then, go back and read slowly through it looking for any areas that seem nonspecific or unclear. Focus especially on your career goals essay – this is where I tend to see jargon run rampant. Any place where you are describing your work experience might have jargon (don’t forget the resume!). Keep in mind that you’ll often have to get rid of what you’ve written and start over instead of trying to clarify it. Sometimes rephrasing a sentence can fix it, but very often the thinking itself is obscured.

Why clear writing matters

If you are able to explain specialized work in an unambiguous way, you demonstrate that you are a strong communicator. Not only will the reader understand your work, but he or she will also see that you are able to share your ideas with a wide audience and work effectively with others outside of your specialty. And because this is one of the hardest parts of the application, excelling on this dimension is a great opportunity to set yourself apart from your fellow applicants!