Why you shouldn’t use overly complicated words when trying to reach customers

The written word is growing in importance as we all move digital. Here's why one editor thinks you should keep it simple.

Have you ever heard that using big words can make you sound dumb? It was proven to be true in humorously titled study by Princeton in 2005.

That’s not to say that you can’t use flowery language now and then. But the fact is, trying to be too clever in your writing can make it harder for the reader to understand what you’re saying. And if you use a word that’s too big that the reader is unfamiliar with, they may have to go look it up, which means you probably just lost a reader or customer.

Not to mention, at least personally, if someone unnecessarily uses a complicated word where a simple word can be used, it looks like they’re trying too hard.

I often think of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, a more than 1,000-page book that took me six months to get through. It’s regarded as one of the most difficult books to finish, not just because of its length, but because Wallace uses overly complicated words like adumbrate, lapidary and mollify. Wallace was an extremely smart guy, but when I read these big words, it not only frustrated me to have to stop reading and look up their meanings, it started to feel as if he was showing off.

As an editor, I’m a firm believer that keeping it simple is the way to go. And this goes beyond books and articles; the same should apply to your marketing materials, blogs, social media posts, press releases, e-blasts, etc.

Think about your audience. They may be sophisticated, but they’re not expecting to see words that Shakespeare used in his writing in your marketing emails. And if they do see something like that, do you think that type of language would make them feel excited?

I also believe that complex words can alienate an audience. If they don’t know what the word means, they might think you’re pretentious or could themselves feel stupid. We don’t want to assume anything about our audience, let alone make them feel unintelligent, but we do want to reach them and communicate in ways that they understand.

Even the most intelligent of customers likely don’t want to read a blog post or email full of romantic language and big words. They simply want to understand what you’re communicating.

And of course, the most common place I see complicated words used is with product descriptions. Something like, “With meticulous attention to detail, this ultra-luxurious chaise exudes opulence and panache,” doesn’t really say very much about the product and could easily be said in a simpler way.

It’s true that some people feel pride in having an extensive vocabulary, as they should. And while some words aren’t necessarily complex, shorter and simpler versions will make the copy flow better. The easiest way to ensure that you’re reaching your audience while being inclusive of everyone who you’re trying to reach is to keep it simple.

The One Stop Shop blog is your number one source for furniture industry tips, advice and how-to's. From social media guidance to breaking down trends in the industry, One Stop Shop offers solutions and ideas that will help specialty retailers, manufacturers and designers succeed in business. Alex’s millennial tendencies and love for listicles runs deep, but not as deep as his passion for providing useful, helpful and informative solutions. Have something you want Alex to write about? Contact him on Twitter @CLalexM or by email at Amilstein@casualliving.com