What Does Research Reveal on Keeping Your Writing Plain and Simple?

Bush confused.jpg

Confusion looks like this.

The Secret Of Impressive Writing?  Keep It Plain And Simple. 

To anyone who is serious about writing, this conclusion is not exactly news.  Except to people new to the task of writing.  And to many researchers and scientists and other experts in the world who feel the more convoluted their language and the higher the syllable count, the more intelligent they appear.

Now we can say that a writer writing simply using commonly understood words is on the path to being seen as intelligent.   This is not opinion.  It is confirmed as scientific fact.  The researcher's last-line conclusion is ~

"Write as simply and plainly as possible and it's
more likely you'll be thought of as intelligent."

The author states early in his report that, "Writers who use long words needlessly are seen as less intelligent than those who stick with basic vocabulary and plain text." this, according to research out of Princeton University published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology in 2005.

Study author Daniel Oppenheimer based his findings on students' responses to writing samples for which the complexity of vocabulary was systematically manipulated. In a series of five experiments, he found that people tended to rate the intelligence of authors who wrote essays in simpler language as higher than those who authored more complex works.

"It's important to point out that this research is not about problems with using long words but about using long words needlessly," said study author Daniel Oppenheimer.

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As if to prove his point, the author lays this dilly on us:  "Interestingly, by making people aware that the source of low fluency was irrelevant to judgment, Oppenheimer found that they overcompensated and became biased in the opposite direction."

Isn't this an example of exactly of what a writer should not do?  It took a dictionary, a thesaurus, two Advil®, and a shot of vodka neat to trudge through his egregious pontification.

Doc, did you read your own study?  You are not being paid by the syllable and/or the dazed expressions of your readers.

Still, Oppenheimer concluded, "The continuing popularity amongst students of using big words may be due to the fact that they may not realize these techniques could backfire," Oppenheimer noted.  His conclusion:

"One thing seems* certain: write as simply and plainly as possible
and it's more likely you'll be thought of as intelligent."

*Seems?  Hedging, are we?  As if you don't want to be seen as having come to a strong conclusion, a trait common in the academic press. 

My conclusion about his conclusion? It is clear that the good professor's prose overcompensated and biased my conclusion about him in the opposite direction.

*  *  *  *  *
Story Source: Materials provided by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. Daniel M. Oppenheimer, Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly, Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology 2005


  1. I absolutely agree. A writer who has the reader reaching for the dictionary every five minutes impresses only himself and other intellectuals. Such an author fails to impress and indeed, alienates the mass reading public. One glowing review of my novel described the book as an 'easy read'. I accept that as a huge compliment.


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