Plain English – Want to sound smarter? Use shorter words.

If we use long words, and complex terminology, we’ll look smarter. Our audience will be more convinced by what we’re saying. They’ll want to hear more. Right?

Wrong.

Although it might seem logical that complex language would convey authority and intelligence, the exact opposite is true. In fact, audiences of all educational levels prefer a message that is delivered in clear, easy-to-understand language.

It’s called Plain English. Numerous research studies over decades have backed up the power of Plain English when it comes to getting a message across.

  • Readers of all educational levels find Plain English easier to understand.
  • Shorter sentences generate greater trust.
  • When people read plain English, they perceive the writer to be more knowledgeable.

The better the audience understands our message, the smarter they think we are. If we communicate in a way that they comprehend, we increase our credibility.

In one of the studies, researchers gave two pieces of writing to over 1500 scientists from industry and academia. The two pieces contained the same facts, in the same sequence, and used the same technical terms. The difference was in the non-technical language.

The first piece used short sentences and everyday words. The second did the opposite, mimicking the style of a typical scientific discussion paper.

The readers showed a marked preference for the Plain English version: 70% found it more stimulating and interesting, and 75% thought the writer of that piece was a more competent scientist, and had a more organised mind.

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