They sneak up on you and wreak havoc when you least expect it. Long words can turn a basic news article about school lunch into an unreadable dissection of decisions about nutritional requirements. Long words at a dinner party make me cringe inside because apparently, I don’t read enough reference books to know the definition of hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia off the top of my head. Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is the intense fear of long words.
The battle is real for everyone who is trying to communicate. It is especially real for those trying to communicate complex ideas or concepts. Take, for example, drinking water systems. Explaining Chloramine is tough, but it’s even harder trying to explain it to a busy mom who just wants to know if the water coming out of her tap is safe to drink.
Never fear. There are a few easy steps you can take to avoid long words and help get your message across.
Start with seven letters. Any word with more than seven letters should only be used if no other option is available.
Focus on clarity. Start by thinking about how you would explain the idea to a fourth-grade student. Starting with basic key points makes developing the rest of the message easier. Fourth graders are smart, but may not know what modulating means.
Use short sentences. Short sentences are powerful. Separating ideas makes them stand out. Readers may forget what was at the beginning of the sentence if the end is forty-five words away. Short sentences are easy to remember. Use them.
It’s tough. Boiling a complex situation, project or topic into digestible pieces is far from easy, but it’s worth it. You may not sound as impressive at your next dinner party, but it may be more impressive if people at the table actually understand what you are trying to say.