Simple, clear help for your writing problems

Many people see vocabulary as one of their top writing problems. If you’re such a person, you may work with a thesaurus open, ready to dig out the perfect word to make a point or complete a description. Here’s a surprising truth: most vocabulary-related writing problems arise from over-inflated vocabularies rather than from light vocabularies.

For Whom are you Writing?

Most readers won’t notice when your writing contains only small, simple words. In fact, they’ll read quickly and understand you easily. However, when you toss in a lollapalooza (a very unusual word), many readers stumble. If knowing the meaning of that lollapalooza is necessary to understand the sentence, paragraph, or article, you could immediately lose readers who don’t know the word. Using many lollapaloozas in a single article could make the article unreadable.

Some disciplines, among them academia, medicine, and law, have come to equate big honking words with prestige. If you’re writing for people in these disciplines, you may need a big vocabulary to be taken seriously. But for most writing your goal should be to include and inform rather than to feed the egos of exclusive cliques. In other words: put away the thesaurus.

Simple is Better

I worked for several years as an editor at a magazine for computer enthusiasts. We saw our audience as middle and upper managers who relied heavily on desktop software. Still, we strove to produce articles that were no more sophisticated than what an eighth grader might produce.

That should be your goal: write well, but write simply. Don’t deliberately use big words because they seem authoritative or sophisticated. Don’t go in search of big words when you already know smaller ones that will do the job. When your readers have to work hard to understand your words, they may completely miss your message.

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