By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor
Why write this…
“Members of an avian species of identical plumage congregate.”
…When you can write this:
“Birds of a feather flock together.”
My writing students ask, “Why not use a big word or phrase? After all, big words impress people.” But they’re missing the point.
Write to be understood, not to impress or show off your education. Dazzle with your message, not your vocabulary. The reader wants it simple, direct and concise.
Even the U.S. government has gotten into the act. Last October, President Obama signed the “Plain Writing Act” into law. The law requires that federal agencies use “clear government communication that the public can understand and use.” (More details at www.plainlanguage.gov)
Now, granted, this may be a lofty goal for the nation’s capital, where doublespeak is a way of life. But the point is, Washington is at least trying to help citizens to find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they find to meet their needs.
Let’s follow Washington’s road map for better writing. The next time you hit the keyboard in search of an apt word or phrase, put yourself in the reader’s shoes and ask, “Can I substitute a shorter, simpler word for the big one I just used?”
You could say, “Individuals who make their abode in vitreous edifices would be advised to refrain from catapulting petrous projectiles.”
But it’s far better to say, “People who throw stones shouldn’t live in glass houses.”
Use plain language. Your reader will love you for it!