You Don’t Sound Smart. You Sound Like a Jerk.
The other day, I came across some old essays I wrote while in college. See, I majored in Political Science and minored in English, so I was constantly cranking out 5, 10, 15, and even 20+ page papers. And I always got good marks on them, so I thought I was a great writer.
As I was looking back on those papers, I was shocked by how much my writing style has changed over the years. Back then, I was far too concerned with cramming in large, impressive words that I thought made me sound smart. I realize now they didn’t make me sound smart at all. They made me sound like a pretentious jerk who was trying to talk over the head of his audience.
The importance of clarity was lost on me during my growing days as a writer. Instead of saying “use”, I’d say “utilize.” Instead of saying “total” I’d say “aggregate.” I could go on and on, but you get the point.
Writing is about communicating with your audience
I often urge bloggers and other copywriters to write like they and their target audience talk. Now, if your target audience really does like to use technical terms or big words, then by all means, you can include those in your copy. But chances are that’s not the case.
What’s more likely is that your audience includes the “average Joe” off the street. And the average person reads at somewhere around an 8th grade level. Don’t believe me? Just grab a newspaper. Newspapers are written a middle school/ junior high level so that the audience can understand the content.
Now, that doesn’t mean it’s dumbed down. It simply means the writers are communicating as clearly as they can by not overcomplicating the copy with big words when small ones mean the same thing.
Your job isn’t to help the reader improve his vocabulary. Your readers are in a hurry. You need to deliver your message as quickly and clearly as possible. Any single word that trips the reader up can derail your entire message.
The best thing you can do is to read your copy aloud before publishing it. If it sounds the way your target audience normally communicates, good. If it doesn’t, figure out which words are muddying up your message, and get rid of them.