Simple and Specific: The Key to Understanding in Your Writing

You might think that being too specific in your communications might confuse busy readers or distract audiences but it’s quite the opposite. Using simple language and being appropriately specific in your descriptions have been proven to increase understanding and retention. Here are some examples:

• Memorable: “The man proceeded down the street.” “The tall man with wavy grey hair scurried down Park Avenue.” The second sentence is more memorable. Why? Because it paints a mental picture; you can “see” the man and the action.

• Believable: Two employees show up late to work and both make excuses. One says, “There was an accident, and I ran into some traffic.” The other one says, “There was an accident on Elm Street, near the Stop & Shop. Two lanes were blocked off – a black Mercedes flipped over.” The second story is more believable because it’s specific, not vague. And it’s more compelling because
people can “see” it.

 Precise: Most people expect to own a home, but a lot of them can’t manage the financing. Eighty percent of adult Americans expect to own their own home, but only 45 percent can actually afford it. The first sentence is mildly interesting but vague, the specificity in the second sentence makes the point clearly and precisely.

Being specific helps your reader understand and engage, but it’s more memorable and relatable with simple language.

Some people think using big, fancy words is a reflection of intelligence and erudition. This is common in the halls of academia. But again, the opposite is more likely to be the case. Smart, insightful people try to connect, to achieve understanding and acceptance… through simple language. Examples:

• Snobby vs. Real: The populous legion of impecunious vagrants congregated near the basilica. Translation: The large crowd of poor homeless people gathered near the old church. Which is easier to understand and envision?

• Jargon vs. Clarity: Consumer elements are continuing to stress the fundamental necessity of a stabilization of the price structure at a lower level than at present. Translation: Consumers keep saying prices must go down and stay down. Simple language is easier to remember.

So, strive to be a credible communicator – avoid clichés, fancy words and jargon, and choose simple language and specific examples to successfully convey even complex ideas. Your audience will not only learn something and find you believable, they’ll also appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Don Heymann

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