Writing in a simple and straightforward way makes you look smarter, research finds.
When readers find it easy to understand something, they assume the writer is more intelligent.
On the other hand, using long words in a clumsy way makes people look less intelligent.
Oddly enough, the use of complicated or unusual fonts also makes people looks less intelligent.
It is far better to stick to normal fonts like Times New Roman or Arial and everyday words that everyone can understand.
Of course, sometimes long words are necessary, such as in technical documents.
Professor Daniel Oppenheimer, the study’s author, explained:
“It’s important to point out that this research is not about problems with using long words but about using long words needlessly.
Anything that makes a text hard to read and understand, such as unnecessarily long words or complicated fonts, will lower readers’ evaluations of the text and its author.”
Professor Oppenheimer carried out five studies to reach his conclusions.
People were asked to read and judge various writing samples, including graduate school applications, research abstracts and a translation of the philosopher Descartes.
Readers consistently rated the writers of simpler language as more intelligent.
Professor Oppenheimer said:
“The continuing popularity amongst students of using big words and attractive font styles may be due to the fact that they may not realise these techniques could backfire.
One thing seems certain: write as simply and plainly as possible and it’s more likely you’ll be thought of as intelligent.”
Naturally, the study’s title is: “Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly”.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology (Oppenheimer, 2005).