Jon’s best way to be smarter, but not look smarter – Writing


Something extra serious to balance Steve’s whimsy on double-post Friday

Sometimes people say things like ‘Use this word because it will make you sound really smart.’ but what they mean is ‘Use this word because it will make you sound like you know a big word.’

I think we do this because most academics write in a way that makes people want to die (Etherington 2002 et al, Flickers, Smythe and Bonfield 1989, and Arton Ned in ‘Please stop referencing so much‘)

But if you want to write smarter, but not necessarily look smarter, do these two things:

  1. Write shorter – most of your sentences should be 10-20 words long – make sure you’re not wasting word count
  2. Write simpler – don’t use a term your audience won’t know and don’t use a fancy word if a normal one works better

Why should you do these things? It’s because this type of writing is the only one that works. Big words, long sentences and complex grammar makes you seem clever but it also leaves people wondering what just happened.

But if these rules make you cry, remember this isn’t supposed to limit you too much. Learn to be creative and interesting within this framework and we’ll all want to read your stuff.

But you might not look smarter.

You’ll just have to console yourself with the knowledge that people quite like reading what you write.

If you just want to look smarter though – here are some tips. Caution: these tips definitely aren’t one of my best things.