do teens know academic jargon?

OK, it is possible someone somewhere will come to your Web site looking for buzzwords that mainly make sense to a well-studied insider. Or maybe there’s a mysterious Prize Patrol that hands out grants to schools with the biggest helping of academic jargon and highest Gunning Fog Index.

But, if you work at a college, it’s much more likely that teens (and parents) will come looking at your Web content. They will seek more prosaic, if practical, answers to questions like: 1) How is your college right for me? 2) How will it get me a job (or, if you prefer, provide a better life) after I graduate? and 3) How much does it cost?

While much ink and bandwidth is burned in an overhyped pondering of whether teens don’t tweet, of greater interest should be ensuring our own Web pages meet the needs of potential students. This means speaking the language they use, not the cant of conferences and symposia. (And, for God’s sake, please don’t expect teens to know or care what symposia are.) Put your mission and vision statements on your office wall if you want to remind yourself of their importance; but don’t put them at the top of your page until we find someone who’s actually chosen a college or major because of a mission or vision statement.

Your college should not be, for the most part, crafting Web copy to be read by professors and academics. They are an important part of your campus community, and colleges everywhere are filled with brilliant, dedicated, caring faculty doing work beyond most of our abilities. It takes great talent to teach people about complex scientific principles, intricate historic events, foreign languages, sublime social-science sequences or how to reach at-risk children.

But colleges also should remember that they’ve hired writers, Web and otherwise, because they provide a certain skill set. Writers need to be trusted in their abilities to craft concise, clear, compelling copy that speaks to an important target audience. The importance of well-done Web content can not be discounted or overstated. Teens may or may not tweet, but they certainly do read college Web sites … and we need to ensure that what they find will keep them interested.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “do teens know academic jargon?

  1. Tim

    Thanks for posting this reminder. A college website is a marketing tool. We already know that teens are on Facebook. Let’s continue to use that resource as well.

  2. eff

    To sound friendly, approachable, I’ve always encouraged people to “write how they talk.” But I’m not sure if that advice applies in the world of academia.

  3. Brad

    Hmmm. Sounds like someone’s been hacking at your copy lately, Tim. : – )

    By the bye, if teens knew the origin (academically, the etymology : – ) of “symposium,” they might care more about them.

  4. insidetimshead

    TIM: Always good to keep in mind. I think it’s easy to chase the new shiny objects and forget the Web site — our meat and potatoes — needs attention as well.

    EFF: Well played! That’s why professors generally don’t write marketing-type copy. Though, to be honest, I know some who could do it superbly.

    DR. BRAD: Long time no see! Yeah, symposia were a lot more fun in the Greek sense. One could even argue the chatroom, which went a long way to launching the Internet we know, was a kind of lowbrow symposium in its own way.

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