About once a month I fly off somewhere to give a one-day workshop on writing for the web.
For part of the day, I invite the group to take part in a series of short tasks. In one of these I ask people to write or rewrite a web page headline, using words of two syllables or less.
What's the point? Well, the idea is to make people think. It's often tempting to write with long, complex words. Perhaps it has to do with how we were taught at school. And sometimes we use long words simply to sound clever.
Before you know it, you end up with something like this, which I found on a CRM site:
"Our Internet support infrastructure automatically collects information from the user's system, facilitates effective communication between support personnel and users, and enables self-healing and automated problem resolution. "
Do you know what they are trying to say? I don't.
Two things happen here. First, the use of long words makes it harder for the reader to process the meaning of what you are saying. This is an issue with all writing, but even more so online, because we have to read on a screen.
Beyond that, I think the use of long words is a symptom. It's a symptom of a writer being lazy. It's a symptom of someone in a rush, someone who won't take the time to sit back and think through what it is they are really trying to say.
Once you are clear in your own mind, and really know what you want to say, it becomes a great deal simpler to express yourself in short, simple words. And when you do that, you'll write in a way that people can grasp very quickly.
Should you always write with short words? Of course not. But try it from time to time. Above all, try it when you find yourself writing in a way that goes on and one, with one long word tripping over the next.
And yes, in case you haven't noticed, except for the word ‘syllables', I wrote this entire piece in words of two syllables or less.
(The purpose was not show that it's a simple thing to do, or that I'm so very clever. The idea is to show how easy it is to read a block of text when the words are short and simple. )
Nick Usborne is a copywriter, author, speaker and advocat of good writing. You can access all his archived newsletter articles on copywriting and writing for the web at his Excess Voice site. You'll find more articles and resources on how to make money as a freelance writer at his Freelance Writing Success site.