Stop Using Big Words to Sound Smart: A Rant

Photo by Amador Loureiro on Unsplash

“Readers may know that utilize means used and optimum means best. But why make them translate?

Skip Boyer

When I studied English at university, the amount of people that used dense verbiage big words to sound smart were insurmountable too many to count. In fact, it’s more shocking to find someone that would use plain English to explain a concept or idea.

The deeper I got into these courses, the more pressure I felt from my classmates to sound smarter. I could see them tense up whenever they’re asked a question, their eyebrows knitted together as they thought of words to replace the easy-sounding ones. Then, they’ll begin their sentence, filled to the brim with passive voice, nominalizations, and SAT words. Once they finished, the class sits in deafening silence, as we sit there and try to deduce the bullsh*t.

Sounding smart in academia hinders discovery

When scientific research and analytical papers are all written to confuse readers, it makes it hard for regular people to learn about new ideas.

For example, if there was a published article on the benefits of vitamin B12 and it was written to make a preschool teacher’s head spin, she’ll click off the article and go on with her life.

One of the biggest issues in academia is the way scientists, PhD students, and professors write. Instead of writing with their real voice, they mask it with a heavy load of nonsense so that they can impress their peers.

Writing, especially in the academic field, is fear-based. If a researcher wrote an article that was easy to understand, his peers would assume that his idea wasn’t good. This is a serious problem that isn’t addressed in the writing community.

Your Writer’s Voice Is Beautiful

Your writer’s voice reveals your personality. The reader, even if you don’t intend it to, can get a feel of who you are based on the way you write.

On the other hand, twisting sentences into hard knots shuts the reader down. They don’t want to sit down and untie each knot that comes their way. They’ll give up with a quickness and move on to a writer that’s easier to understand.

Let Go of Your Pride

If you’ve spent your whole life writing to sound smart, I know it’s not your fault. Most of us were told to never use the word “I” for fear of sounding vain. We were also taught to never make any sentence sound too easy, or it doesn’t prove that we “deserve” to be at the university we got into.

But if this is you, I want you to let go of your pride and take a deep breath. It’s okay to not use big words, and trust me, you won’t sound silly if you stop doing it. It’s time to break down that wall that separates you from your reader. The fear of sounding like yourself is the fear of being vulnerable. And in writing, being vulnerable is necessary for people to read your work.

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