Jun 29, 2010

When acronyms and jargon rule, users may lose

(The following article is one in a series that I wrote for a distance learning-related blog I used to run. For posterity's sake, I am reposting it -and others- here)

Paraphrasing a recent conversation, "The mapping issue related to your CIV CODEC seems to be related to the new PVC and is directly related to the new VPI/VCI, so until that's resolved, your VC is DOA, but I'll work on it ASAP."

Some of my more tech-knowledgeable readers may understand the previous statement without any need for interpretation whatsoever. I, on the other hand, felt like I had been sent through the alphabet wringer. I do know enough about DL to get the gist of what the tech on the other end of the phone was talking about (and, by the way, I'm sure most of my co-workers can pinpoint the tell-tale signs with whom I was having said conversation).

But, one thing I have learned just recently is that one should never assume the person you are addressing understands all the acronyms being bandied about. If I were to take that same conversation and relay it verbatim to my affected end users, they would respond by either hanging up the phone or providing me with enough dead air time to fill a commercial break on your local radio station. This dead air would be followed by, "Okaaayyy, what does that mean?"

Think of it as going to the doctor, or even better the auto mechanic. When the doc steps in and begins to send a barrage of highly technical jargon related to your illness, do you feel more secure or less secure when you do not understand what the doc is talking about? At the shop, the mechanic starts rattling off terms for things you've never heard of. Your first thought (often)? "This guy is trying to rip me off or he has no idea what he is talking about." Exactly what your users may think, too.

My job, as I see it, is to take those acronyms and other industry jargon and convert it into "English" for my end-users. In this case, I told the district affected that the problem was not on their site, that it was related to the new line(s) dropped in recently, and that the Dept of Info Services would be working on it. I also let them know that I would be following up on both ends of this problem.

CIV, VC, DIS, PVC, VPI, VCI, CODEC, H.323, H.264, you name it. Every industry has their own acronyms, sure, but if you cannot break the technical terms into something your users can understand, you lose out on professional communication and collaboration, and may find that those users seek their troubleshooting from another source – one they can actually understand.

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