Show Your Expertise with Your Word Choices

I love words. Most writers do. And, contrary to what some writers may think, most editors love words too.

I also love chocolate. But if I don’t monitor my intake of chocolate judiciously, I risk losing the enjoyment of the chocolate experience by getting sick. So it is with words. If authors don’t select their words carefully, they risk losing their readers by using words that don’t work well.

The best way to share an idea or concept or story entails using simple language. Too often authors think they need the fifty-cent word when a ten-cent word does the job even better. Why do they think that? They think they sound more authoritative. I’m sure that’s why academicians and bureaucrats like the pretentious gobbledygook they offer in their textbooks, regulations, manuals, etc. But instead of impressing the masses, they turn them off.

The federal government even pokes a little fun at itself in this website:

It’s worth visiting the site for a tongue-in-cheek look at how to change short and simple sentences into longer ones.

But, back to my point. Here are some things you can do to keep your readers reading.

  • Use plain language.
  • Keep your words simple.
  • Use the fewest number of words you can.
  • Realize that people want to understand you, not be impressed by your command of the language.
  • Avoid jargon, but if you can’t avoid it, explain it when you’re writing outside your industry.
  • Consider alternate word choices–use vs. utilize, rain vs. precipitation, math skills instead of computational skills, naked vs. unadorned.
  • Be honest with yourself about why you think you need the complicated language. Do you think your ideas aren’t impressive if you express or explain them simply? Do you want to hide the clear meaning (precipitation can mean snow as well as rain)? Do you want to show off your vocabulary?

One of our authors, Mark LeBlanc, wrote his first book, Growing Your Business!, several years ago. He tells the story of writing the content and making it look impressive size-wise. Then he read the content again and said, “There’s a lot of crap in this book.” And he proceeded to take out the “crap” and  simplify the content. Now the book is written to the point and thousands of people own it and keep it handy because it’s plainly written, easy to understand, and practical–simple!

It’s your turn to look at your writing and honestly look at your word choices. If a long word works best, use it, but don’t overlook the opportunity to select simpler words if they make your writing more clear to your reader. Your expertise will show more clearly than if you hide in a bunch of words people have to plow through.

Happy writing!



1 Response to “Show Your Expertise with Your Word Choices”

  1. 1 Carol Ann Hoel March 1, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Great advice. Thank you for sharing…

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