Writing AdviceWriting, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Impress Your Reader With Your Message, Not Your Vocabulary


In classic literature, it seemed that critics thought "the bigger the words, the better the writer." While the classics certainly have their place in literary history, chances are that your essays, resumes, cover letters, theses, marketing communications, novels or short stories are more likely to be read and judged by a much more targeted, and thus much smaller, audience.

Beware the 10-lb. word in a 5-lb. sack

Words are wonderful, magical tools for any writer, and there is great temptation to branch out from our vocabulary comfort-zone, to experiment with what we consider to be intellectual or "smart-sounding" phrases. Your message to your reader will be interrupted by the shock of an ill-fitting word or phrase that is obviously not part of your regular speech but instead, a substitute plucked from Roget's Thesaurus. The teacher, professor, customer or employer reading your document is interested in your message; you will lose their interest quickly if the flow of your writing (and their reading) is sprinkled with unnecessary multi-syllable or archaic words.

Objective editing produces better writing

Let's assume you have a writing project – an essay. You have selected a topic, researched your background material, formulated your opinions on the subject and produced the first draft. Your next three steps are crucial to creating the best essay you can write: 1) Edit the text; 2) Edit the text again; 3) Read the text as if you were a child, and edit the text again. If you find words or phrases that seem out of place or could be simplified for clearer understanding, get your red pencil moving! What seems out of place to you could come across to your reader as pompous and, worse yet, could cause your reader to discount any genuine ideas you may be trying to explain.

Write as you speak

Naturally, formal writing will be more structured than conversation; nevertheless, everything you write should impart your personality, your intelligence and your sense of humor where appropriate. This is more difficult for English-as-second-language writers, who have a tendency to select grander-sounding words in English than in their own language. As these writers become more familiar with casual English and interact more with English-speaking associates, it is an editor's delight to see their written communication become much more natural and less dependent upon "big" words.

Put this tip to work for you

Below is an example from a resume of an introductory paragraph that cries out for simplification. As a practice exercise, identify the roadblocks to understanding and re-phrase as needed without losing the intent of the message. While this is an obviously absurd example, you should approach all of your writing with the same critical eye and the pledge to make your end-product the best it can be.

Career Objective: To capitalize on my abundant scholastic and professional sagacity in marketing communications, all the while achieving equanimity between Advertising and Public Relations, ensuring my effectiveness and contributory value to my prospective employer.

Small words to write by

If you remember nothing else from my writing tips, burn these three words on your brain: Keep it simple. While you should always strive to improve your vocabulary, you do not want your reader fumbling through the dictionary instead of absorbing your message. The best advice for would-be writers is evidenced by successful modern authors – their use of words, flow of content, clarity of subject and variety of expressions – hence, the more you read, the more you learn about writing, and the most valuable lesson is: Build your vocabulary and improve your writing, but leave the ten-dollar words to Shakespeare!

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