‘If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well.’ — Einstein
There may be a link between jargon and poor business performance, according to a study by Deloitte Consulting. In one test, SEC documents got more and more obscure as the organizations got deeper and deeper into trouble.
“We think that’s a good indicator of the linkage between clear and straight communications and business performance, including the issue of transparency and trust,” Deloitte Consulting partner Brian Fugere told Reuters.
No wonder The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and others have begun reporting readability of SEC documents in the financial pages. And the Chicago Sun-Times recently quoted this internal Chevron memo:
Reporter Zay N. Smith’s response:
“Sell your Chevron stock. Sell it now.”
But jargon doesn’t just suggest that your company may be in trouble. It also makes you look less intelligent.
Jargon demonstrates your ignorance.
Using stuffy words might make you sound stuffy. But it won’t make you sound smarter. In fact, people who use big words when smaller ones will do actually sound less intelligent, according to research at Princeton University.
“While intelligent people can often simplify the complex, a fool is more likely to complicate the simple.”
— Henry David Thoreau, American author and philosopher
In one experiment, a group of bright Princeton undergrads read the original translation of Descarte’s Meditation; another group read a simplified version. Participants who read the simplified version rated the author more intelligent than those reading the original version.
When people don’t understand information, they tend to go more with the original, often too-technical and undigested information from a primary source, says Joseph M. Williams in Style: Toward Clarity and Grace.
As no less a genius than Albert Einstein wrote: “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well.”
What words will resonate with your readers?
Jargon. Buzzwords. Acronyms. They’re things that make your reader go “huh?” And we need to get them out of our message.
Learn how to translate the language of your organization into the language of your readers at Rev Up Readability — our tight-writing workshop starting Sept. 19.
There, you’ll learn how to define terms the reader-friendly way (Hint: It’s not the way you learned in Journalism 101.) How to steal techniques from Warren Buffett to make complex technical information easier to understand — and more fun to read. Plus: you’ll boost social media reach and influence, media coverage and your organization’s authority.
Save up to $100 with our group discounts.