It’s Official – Big Words Make You Sound Stupid

This is something I’ve been harping on about for years. simple language

Writing – in every form, but especially copywriting – should always be written in its simplest form.

The assumption that big, complex words make you appear more intelligent and wise is false. They have the opposite effect and here’s academic proof.

The study, written by Daniel Oppenheimer (a psychologist at Princeton), took a handful of writing samples and used a thesaurus to replace each noun, verb and adjective with the longest synonym he could find. Then these highly complex versions were given to 71 Stanford undergraduates to evaluate the writing samples

Although in an academic setting, this kind of “writing by thesaurus” is rife in the business world where writers believe it makes them sound knowledgeable and important in the false belief that using simple language will make them sound lightweight or unimportant.

It’s a constant battle I have with some clients. They insist on using dreadful managerial speak, talking about incentivising, touching base, holistic cradle-to-grave approaches, core competencies and blue-sky thinking.

No, no, no.

Your readers want straightforward English that simply tells it as it is, a view backed up by Oppenheimer’s study*.

His experiments showed that people rated the intelligence of authors who wrote essays in simpler language, using an easy to read font, as higher than those who authored more complex works.

“It’s important to point out that this research is not about problems with using long words but about using long words needlessly,” said study author Daniel Oppenheimer.

“Anything that makes a text hard to read and understand, such as unnecessarily long words or complicated fonts, will lower readers’ evaluations of the text and its author.”

So please, when working with your copywriter, listen to what they are telling you and trust their judgement. They make their living writing and so understand what it takes to create something your customers will want to read and act on.

As Oppenheimer sums up: “One thing seems certain: write as simply and plainly as possible and it’s more likely you’ll be thought of as intelligent.”

Author: Sally Ormond.

*Follow this link for Oppenheimer’s full study: Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.

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