For Writing Students Everywhere

Live Science has an article on simple writing making folks look smart.

Long words used needlessly along with complicated font styles — two tactics employed routinely by students trying to pad their work — are perceived as coming from less intelligent writers.

Or, to put it simply: Short words and classic fonts make you look smart.

Daniel Oppenheimer at Princeton University conducted five experiments manipulating the complexity of vocabulary or font style. Samples included graduate school applications, sociology dissertation abstracts, and translations of a work by Descartes.

Times New Roman, the default font for Internet text and writing programs like Microsoft Word, was contrasted by the italicized Juice font …
The simple writing done in the easy-to-read font tended to be rated as coming from a more intelligent author than the more complex drafts.

“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,” Oppenheimer said.

He added, though, that the study does not suggest long words are inherently bad, but only that using them needlessly is a problem. So why do so many people do it?

“The continuing popularity amongst students of using big words and attractive font styles may be due to the fact that they may not realize these techniques could backfire,” Oppenheimer said. “One thing seems certain: write as simply and plainly as possible and it’s more likely you’ll be thought of as intelligent.”

Yes, the teacher will notice that you are padding your papers. I tell my students this all the time. Most of the time they listen. I wonder if they think about it when they are writing papers for other teachers.

Also, note that the big words are used needlessly. If you know what they mean and are using them correctly, then I don’t have a problem with them. But there needs to be a reason to use them. Are you using them because you’ve used the simpler terms six times and you need a change of pace? Good for you. Are you using them to prove you know how to use them? I probably already know that.

Note: The article doesn’t say who the people were responding to the style changes. Were they teachers? Or were they students? Were they readers for a conference? Because I can tell you of some conferences where you need to have long words used. Then it’s not needless; it’s the only way to get in.

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