#12 — Not using plain language
Recently, I’ve seen writers try to up their vocabulary. Sometimes, it feels as if they open a thesaurus and write the words they find down. But as science shows, it’s actually better to use plain language.
Some of these words include specific plant or animal names, scientific words, uncommon verbs, etc. Grackle. Fervent. Reveille. Imbibes. Ostentatious.
I attended an ACES webinar by Cheryl Stephens about this recently. She mentioned how people know about 5,000 to 10,000 words. Anything outside of that can make readers confused or have to infer what you mean.
“When you ask the reader to infer what you mean, you increase the odds that they’ll get it wrong. Be specific.” — Cheryl Stephens
Most times, readers can’t stop to look up a word. It also forces readers to break away from the story. After so many breaks, readers may not want to go back.
There are two good ways to check this.
One is Google Ngram. This site lets you put in words to see their frequency across a specific time frame.
A second good way is to ask someone. I usually ask my mom or my friends. If they can’t tell me what the word means, I replace it for a more common word.
Granted, sometimes using uncommon words works for the story. But most times, it’s better to think about whether your intended audience will know the word.
I hope this helps!