20 September 2020

Use simple language.

The purpose of communication is the dissemination of information, not to look smart or to deceive people. So, whether you are giving a presentation or writing a report keep your audience in mind. Here are seven simple questions you should ask yourself:

  1. What is it that I intend to say?
  2. What images do I want to invoke?
  3. What words best describe those images?
  4. How can I make it shorter?
  5. What does my listener hear, my reader read?
  6. What images do my words invoke?
  7. How are these images interpreted?

Plain language is preferable to technical jargon. Avoid acronyms at the cost of length. Also keep in mind that everybody loves a well-developed story. And storytelling is an art that you have to practice, practice, practice.

Example: The sarcasm trap

When I was a graduate student I went to talk to one Professor Pedersen. While I was waiting for him to finish a letter, I looked out the window.

"Nice weather," I commented.

"Thank you," Professor Pedersen said.

I was puzzled. Fortunately, Pedersen went on to explain that the pullover was a recent purchase.

What had happened?

Two things: Not only did Pedersen misunderstand my words, "nice weather" had become "nice sweater", he also misinterpreted my inflection, assuming that a graduate student would not deride a professor's clothes.

What was intended as a scornful comment about the weather had been interpreted as an honest compliment on a piece of garment.