Part of my work as a writer is research. That means that for every hour I spend writing, I’ve probably spent at least much time reading what other people have to say on a subject. I protect myself from plagiarism by making sure I’ve made notes about what I want to say about something before I read, and use my research to check I’m not coming out of left-field – or at least if I am, it’s in a good way.
One thing I’ve noticed is that for every great, engaging, clearly stated post or article there’s one written by someone who crams it full of as many long words as they can think of. Their sentences are longer and more twisted than the Amazon (the river, not the e-commerce giant). It gives me a headache to read. Each and every time I wonder, just what these people think they are saying.
Word choice is the body language of written communication. It’s the thing that you pick up on, subconsciously, that informs how you feel about the person that wrote it. You may have come for the content, but the way it is being presented is just as important, and part of the whole process of communication.
For example, the title I’ve used for this post is Eliminate the Excrement. Now obviously, you are going to read that and realise that I’ve chosen some 50 cent words to say, ‘Cut the crap’. My intention was two-fold: 1) To make this particular point, and 2) To make you smile. I don’t know how well I’ve succeeded with either, because the understanding of what I’ve written is out of my control.
Now, certainly, there are times and places when using longer words is appropriate. And sometimes, that longer word is the right one because it means precisely what you want to convey. Other times, writers use long words because they’re trying to impress. The trouble is, it has the opposite effect.
Using longer words can be interpreted by the reader as pretentious, you come over as a smug, smarty-pants. It can also be seen as a sign of insecurity, a need to put yourself above others, talking down to them via the medium of text.
And is that really what you want to be doing as a writer? Is that the feeling that you want to leave your reader with? Is it worth the risk that a potential customer won’t understand those longer words, or will be put off by the run-on sentences?
So, Cut the Crap
If you’re blogging, it’s because you want to communicate with other people. Don’t put barriers between you and them. Use clear and concise language. If your business uses technical terms, acronyms or specialist language, explain them. Check the reading age of your work with something like Hemingway, and aim for a result of 6 or 7 (this post is a 7) .
It’s also important to consider how many people access your content on a mobile device. If they do, then run on sentences and extended paragraphs will fill up more than one screen with text; you’ll lose your white space and that decreases legibility.
Bottom line, don’t make it any harder on your readers to identify with you and your content. Keep things clear and simple, focus on the reader and don’t let your ego go crazy with the thesaurus!