Monday, August 13, 2012

Short Words Win

George Orwell advised, "Never use a long word where a short one will do."

The results of a 2005 experiment by psychologist Daniel Oppenheimer suggest Orwell was onto something.

Oppenheimer showed that writers who use big words needlessly are judged by readers as less intelligent than writers who use short ones.

To conduct his study, the Princeton psychologist borrowed students' writing samples and doctored them.

First, he created "highly complex" versions by replacing every noun, verb and adjective with its longest synonym.

Next, he created "moderately complex" versions by replacing every third noun, verb and adjective with its longest synonym.

Oppenheimer then asked subjects to read the various writing samples and rate the intelligence of their authors.

Across the board, the original samples won out over the moderately and highly complex versions.

Oppenheimer concluded, "Contrary to prevailing wisdom, increasing the complexity of a text does not cause an essay’s author to seem more intelligent. In fact, the opposite appears to be true."

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