Simple = Smart

This is a great article: How Great Leaders Communicate. While it includes four tips for communicating effectively, I want to focus on the first one: “Use short words to talk about hard things.”

I’ll make it even more clear: “Use short words.” Period.

Three out of five people use big words to sound smart and impress others. But what it does is make you sound arrogant and pompous.

One of my pet peeves is the use of “utilize” instead of “use.” Many think the two words are interchangeable. They are not. A quick Google search reveals the “use vs. utilize” drama is almost as big as the oxford comma debate. Nine times out of ten, use “use.”

Using simple words ensures your writing is approachable, clear, and inclusive.

Be approachable

Have you ever heard someone use big, important sounding words? Or words you didn’t know? Did you feel like you could start an easy, friendly conversation with that person? Probably not. That’s how fancy and complicated writing makes people feel. Your writing wants to draw readers in, not push them out.

Be clear

Experts say most adults comprehend written materials at a 6th grade level. This should be your goal. Using complex or unfamiliar words could lead to confusion and misunderstandings. Remember the Friends episode when Joey uses a Thesaurus?

Here’s the transcript:

Monica: It doesn’t make any sense.

Joey: Of course it does. It’s smart. I used a Thesaurus.

Chandler: On every word?

Joey: Yep!

Monica: What was this sentence originally?

Joey: Oh, “They’re warm, nice people with big hearts.”

Chandler: And that became, “They’re humid, prepossessing Homo sapiens with full-sized aortic pumps.”

Don’t be Joey. Write to inform – not to impress.

Be inclusive

Complicated, complex, or fancy words excludes others, making them feel inferior or “not good enough.” They think they should know, but are afraid of sounding stupid and asking for clarification. They may stop reading or listening – and you’ve lost them. I’ve been in meetings where participants use words I don’t know. When I find out what the word actually means, I wonder why the person didn’t just use the common word? Remember the “Keep it simple, stupid (KISS) principle? It helps ensure our work is inclusive.

Simple can be harder than complex

Consider this quote from Steve Jobs:

“Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

That’s right – while it takes more time and energy to create simple content, it’s worth it on the other side when your content is crisp, clear and concise.

Informing is better than impressing.

Fun fact: this blog post registered a 4.8 using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. This means the passage could be understood by a student in the fourth or fifth grade.

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