Almost Anything Goes

We often think that using simple and clear language is a sign of low intelligence. We're afraid we might lose authority if we write and sound like a 4th grader.

But here's the thing. Explaining complex things in a simple way is actually a sign of high intelligence.

In 2010, US attorney Sean Flammer ran a fun experiment. He sent two excerpts from a potential pleading to 800 judges across the US. Each judge received the original ‘legalese’ version, a plain-English version and a survey. The survey asked the judges to pick which of the two writing samples was more persuasive.

Ready to be shocked?

The judges preferred the plain-English version to the original by 66% to 34%. And that preference held no matter their age, gender or background.

But perhaps most telling were the judges’ comments. Several wrote that the plain-English version was more persuasive because of the succinctness of its argument.

One judge even said that it was “simpler, more direct prose. Getting to the point trumps pontificating any day.”

So what's the lesson here? If you want to persuade your reader, write in plain English. It cuts through the noise and makes you look smart. 

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Monday Nov 5 2018