My husband recalls two occasions on which I came home to exclaim, “The library is out of books. I have read them all.” It sounds absurd, but I assure you that the statement (on both occasions in different cities) was absolutely true.
As someone who is extremely well-read (my personal library contains well over 1,000 books) I know that a good vocabulary is a wonderful asset.
Knowing a multitude of words and their meanings is one thing; misusing this treasure trove is another. Talking down to your audience is never a good idea. It is also equally important not to leave them in the dark either.
Think carefully about the words you use. Using words that are bandied about within your niche may be good if you are relating to others within your field, but will do little to endear you to people outside that sphere. Non-computer geeks will understand the feeling of frustration one gets when attempting to grasp programming jargon.
Using terms like “metrics”” and “quantifiable” may work well within your industry, but there is a good chance that words like these will alienate your audience. Show how well you can relate to your readers instead of showing off your vocabulary.
There are three reasons that writers use words that their readers do not know:
1. The writer has spent so much time wrapped up in academia that they’ve forgotten how real people talk.
2. The writer is trying to sound impressive.
3. The writer is purposefully trying to confuse the reader so that they can work an NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) angle. (NLP is used as a form of hypnotic or subliminal suggestion. Practitioners may argue this point, but that is what it is used for in advertising: to make the reader more susceptible to suggestion.)
Instead of using the $25 word that you have in mind, use the words that make up the meaning of that word or use a more common word. If you cannot come up with a more simple term then utilize hyperlinks to take your readers to a definition of the word. Be careful where you send people. Sometimes the definitions given can be very confusing. (Just try searching the term “quantifiable” and check out what the investment websites have to say.)
If your website or blog utilizes a piece of translation software so that people of different languages can enjoy your writing then you would do well to keep your language as plain as possible.
Most of us want to understand and be understood. Your use of language tells a lot about you. Keep it simple so that more people can understand you. As Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Darla Mittler is the President and CEO of Darla Mittler Document Magic. For over 20 years she has been helping people organize and streamline their businesses