How to make your words clear

How to make your words clear

Which would you rather read, and why?

Entities are satisfactory that terminate satisfactorily.

OR

All’s well that ends well.

I thought so! I’d rather read the second version, too. It’s easier and faster to process a shorter word than a longer word. And that’s especially true for those who read English as their second language.

In this blogpost, we will focus on two ways to present words that will make your ideas clearer to your reader. I always teach these principles in my Technical Writing webinars:

  • Use shorter words rather than longer words when possible.
  • Explain your terms and jargon.

To be clear, use shorter words rather than longer words when possible

In English, we often have two words for the same thing, idea, or concept:

This table compares Latinate to Saxon words
Latinate vs. Saxon words

 

 

 

 

 

Always choose the shortest word possible.

(Learn more about the history behind this phenomenon in my blog post about Latinate vs. Saxon words.)

How to clear up your jargon

Avoid using jargon (technical shorthand best used between experts only). If any part of your audience might be nontechnical readers, translate your jargon into language they will understand:

This table compares jargon versus words translated for the general public
Jargon vs. translated words

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you do have technical terms that you want your readers to learn, educate them by defining your terms within your text like this:

The stone called granite formed at great depth, about 13 kilometers (7.8 miles), when a body of molten rock (magma) rose and cooled slowly.

Of course, another form of shorthand between experts is acronyms. You can spell out the words that form the acronym and follow that by the acronym in parentheses:

Nothing but initials (NBI)

After expanding the acronym, you can just write the acronym NBI.

And by the way, these aren’t modern principles for improving your technical writing. Aristotle (384-322 BC) said: “Those who will write well must speak as the common people do and think as the wise people do. So shall everyone understand them.” These principles have long been promoted by Plain Language (PL) advocates.

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