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Real Words that Work   

By Patricia Davies, President, Patricia Davies Communications     
When 50 cents beats $1
I want you to meet Daniel Oppenheimer, and not just because he is the lead author of a study that showed big words and complex sentences don’t impress readers. I want to shake his hand because he has a great sense of humour in a field not known for levity. Oppenheimer, a professor at Princeton University, named his study “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity.” Then he drove home the point with the subtitle “Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.”
 
I’m not so enthusiastic about meeting G. Leroy, D. Kauchak and O. Mouradi, who recently published “A user-study measuring the effects of lexical simplification and coherence enhancement on perceived and actual text difficulty.” The team at the School of Information Systems and Technology, Claremont Graduate University, concluded: “Lexical simplification can negatively impact the flow of the text.” I think they were discussing the challenges of writing clear medical information that patients can understand, but I’m not sure.
 
Guideline:
 
Choose the 50-cent word over the $1 word whenever you can. No matter what a reader’s level of education or position in an organization, reading paragraphs of multisyllabic words is hard on the eyes and the brain. Oppenheimer neatly summed up the virtues of simplicity in a Reuters news agency interview: “If the best way to say something involves using a complex word then by all means do so. But if there are several equally valid ways of expressing your ideas, you should go with the simpler one.”
 
GPS (Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling) Tips
 
In response to reader requests this column will occasionally include hints on grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS).
 
I notice a growing trend to jam together the two words that refer to a whole bunch of something. The correct spelling is “a lot” not “alot”.  “You bought a lot of potatoes.” 
 
Patricia Davies www.patriciadavies.com is an award-winning writer and editor, an Endorsed Education Provider (EEP) with IIBA®, and a regular panelist on the IIBA “Being a BA: Effective Communication” Webinar. Do you have a writing question? Please email to IIBAnewsletter@IIBA.org and we’ll try to address it in a future column or Webinar.