Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
English for Engineers

Communicating with a Non-Specialist Audience

For some assignments, such as a consultancy report, you may need to write for a non-specialist audience.

Using the right words

When communicating with a non-specialist audience, considerations include:

Each of these considerations present challenges, which are explored below.

Which words are technical jargon?


When you are studying or working in a particular specialism, it can be hard to recognise which words someone else will find difficult to understand.


1) See which dictionary you can find the word in.
If you can find the word in an advanced learner dictionary, such as the Macmillan Advanced Learner Dictionary, then it is reasonable to assume a non-specialist reader will understand it. However, if you can only find it in technical dictionaries or larger dictionaries aimed at native speakers, your reader may not know it.

2) Read what other people have written about your subject area in other contexts, for example, other consultancy reports, news articles. What language do the writers use?

Which words can I teach my reader?


It isn’t necessary to remove all technical language. Indeed, teaching the reader a few carefully chosen words can actually improve communication. However, it can be difficult to decide which words to teach.


1) Consider carefully how many new words you can reasonably expect the reader to learn.

2) Try reading other texts written for non-specialist audiences about subjects outside your field. Consider how easy you found them to understand, and whether there are any techniques you could use in your own writing.

3) Only teach words that are really necessary because they will make communication quicker or more precise. Always ask yourself whether that level of precision is necessary. If a word is only used once, it is unlikely to be essential.

How can I teach my non-specialist audience essential specialist language?


The way in which you familiarise your reader with essential new vocabulary is extremely important. You do not want to speak down to the reader or make the language become the focus of the report.


1) If you include a list of key terms, put it at the start of the report rather than in the main body. This allows the reader to skip the section if it is not relevant to them, and stops it dominating your main content.

2) If you aren’t teaching the reader many new words and will spread them out throughout the report, use a variety of different methods to maintain a good writing style.

Reducing the strain

When you have a non-specialist audience, it is especially important to communicate clearly.

Key points

Privacy Settings