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Clear writing makes you sound smart

Here’s the situation:

You need to communicate about a technical, complex topic to your audience. The draft you’ve been given by the Head of Technical Stuff is wordy, full of jargon and really hard to understand.

So you painstakingly rewrite it. You craft a beautiful article that uses clear, simple language that makes the topic accessible to anyone who reads it. You are DELIGHTED with yourself.

Until… the Head of Technical Stuff says she hates it.

You’re dumbing it down”, she says. “We need to go back to the first draft and use that language. Otherwise I’m not approving it.”

You can't persuade her otherwise. You're banging your head off a wall. Seriously, this has happened to all of us.

How do you convince her that clear language is better?

I’m going to give you some science-based ammunition you can use the next time this happens to you.

In 2005, Daniel Oppenheimer from Princeton University was struck by the academic, long-winded language that all his students used. He had a theory that they used this type of language deliberately in order to appear more intelligent.

So he set up a research study to test this theory out. He asked participants to rate a number of writing samples. Some writing samples used complex vocabulary, some had simpler words. He ran 5 different experiments to test how readers responded to the different writing types.

His finding was striking: When writing is clear and in simpler language, the author is rated as more intelligent.

Readers find the author more intelligent when they can clearly and easily understand what is being communicated.

Have a look at Oppenheimer’s study title for a great example of using complex language versus simple language to convey the same idea:

Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.

So the key takeaway is this:

"Anything that makes a text hard to read and understand, such as unnecessarily long words, will lower readers' evaluations of the text and its author." says Oppenheimer.

Isn’t this gold?

You can use this scientific research in your work as a professional communicator. Like, today.

Your Head of Technical Stuff may not be persuaded by your arguments about your audience needs. But if you appeal to her ego using this published scientific research from Princeton University, and convince her that using clear language will make people view her as more intelligent, then you might be onto a winner.

Here’s a direct quote from the study author that you can use in your presentations and in your conversations:

One thing seems certain. Write as simply and plainly as possible and it’s more likely you’ll be thought of as intelligent” says Oppenheimer.

TLDR: Writers who use long words unnecessarily are seen as less intelligent.


Whenever you're ready, here are 3 ways I can help you:

  1. Consulting: I help organisations create effective systems of internal communication. This includes reviewing your current system, developing internal communication strategies, establishing internal communication functions and more. Book a free call to discuss how I can help you.

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