I’ve heard them called “ten dollar words”.

You know, the “BIG” words some people use to explain a process or procedure, or even to tell a story. Many will understand what the person is talking about, but some won’t.Blogging for Dummies

This is very evident in the medical profession, as well as in government. Sometimes professionals use the language of their trade to save words, whereas others will use big words as a method of showing off, excluding, intimidating or confusing others.

With blogging we see this happening, too.

Today’s Lesson

For myself, I see it in “How to” pages when I’m learning how to work behind the scenes of my blog.

Those whom are technologically experienced normally write in “computer language”, possibly assuming others will understand or feeling they shouldn’t have to “dumb down” by writing the information in easy to understand terms.

However, I recently read,

The person, in whom the foundational skills of reading have not yet become automatic, will read haltingly and with great difficulty. The poor reader is forced to apply all his concentration to word recognition, and therefore has “no concentration left” to decode the written word, and as a result he will not be able to read with comprehension.

If that’s the case, it’s no wonder some are skimming posts, leaving comments which appear off topic, or are not commenting at all. It’s possible they don’t understand what’s written or have depleted their concentration reserves.

I don’t know about you, but I want my readers to comprehend what I share. After all, I have new bloggers showing up and I certainly don’t want them leaving because it appears I assume they know what I’m talking about.

Granted, there are times when it’s necessary for a reader to do additional homework in order to understand blogging, but on average, my hope is I can appeal to the widest audience possible.

Our readers are showing up from all over the world. Even though our first language may be English and our ability to comprehend may be higher than others, in many instances, that’s not the case.

Knowing this, I don’t have a problem simplifying what I share.

Do you?

Today’s Assignment

Do you think a blogger should write below their education or intelligence level just to please their readers?

Have you ever landed on a site which made no sense to you, all because of the language the author used?

Care to share?

signature for blog post.

P.S. Want to test the readability of your site? Check out Juicy Studio – Readability test for blogs and websites

Interesting fact: The longest word, according to Wikipedia, is Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. The definition is:

“a factitious word alleged to mean a lung disease caused by the inhalation of very fine silica dust, causing inflammation in the lungs.'” A condition meeting the word’s definition is normally called silicosis.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Look Who's Talking
  1. Love it Barbara.

    I think simple language is important. I found a great article on line that I couldn’t understand for the life of me. When I find it, I’m going to send you the link.

    I cannot tell you how many times these words have left my mouth when teaching: Subject, Verb, Object. Why do people just not get that? I think people try to use big words to impress their readers. No problem from this gal.

    I’ve been ‘dumbed’ down a long time ago. 😉

    .-= Check out Julie @ jbulie’s blog´s awesome post: May Movies ~ School year ending *happy face* ~ Einstein’s theory of relativity. =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Thank you Julie,

      Yes. Some will use big words to try and impress their readers, however, if there’s not substance behind them, it’s all for naught. Plus, once you start that technique, it might be hard to switch to a more simple language and still sound authentic.

  2. cherreyNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Barbara,

    I believe dumbing down our posts and not putting a lot of jargon do help in attracting readers especially if our posts are about general everyday stuffs.

    But other blogs do not care about the terms they use especially if they’re only target readers are people that hold the same interest as theirs.

    Most of the time, when I write I do have some series of questions like “Who are my readers?” or “Will this be understandable enough?” when I go through my first paragraph in writing my blog posts.

    .-= Check out cherrey´s awesome post: Iron Man 2 Movie Review =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Cherrey,

      I like your idea of asking the questions, “Who are my readers?” or “Will this be understandable enough?”. That not only would help to keep us on track, but might help us to write accordingly.

  3. LanceNo Gravatar says:

    I tend to agree. With us not knowing the fully reading ability of the readers who are visiting – making it easy to read is a good thing. I know that I prefer that, too.

    Is there a place, though, for this more “challenging” language? I think there is. Especially on sites that are very specific – using the language and terminology of a non-beginner is okay.

    For me – I tend to write for a very broad audience. As such, I do try to keep my words and sentence structures such that they are easy to comprehend.
    .-= Check out Lance´s awesome post: And Why Do We Laugh? =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Lance,

      That’s true. There is a place for more challenging language. Just like the sites I land on which are about coding, blog security or…, it’s not “their” fault I may not understand, and in fact, I’m probably not their target audience. But…it does challenge me to learn.

  4. Mike GoadNo Gravatar says:

    In my view, it depends on the audience. For instance, I subscribe to a number of science related blogs. Some of those blogs are clearly written for the general public, while others are written for people with a science or technical background.

    Some writings by their very nature are technical. The readability of many of these could probably be improved without adversely impacting the work.

    For most blogs, though, the goal should be to keep it simple. The text, structure and style should be at a level that is easily readable by most visitors.

    I haven’t seen the Gunning-Fog index, Flesch Reading Ease, or Flesch-Kincaid grade level in a long time. Years ago, the company I worked for used Word Perfect and it had a readability feature that produced similar results as the page you link to. At the time, I was doing technical writing and I actually used it to improve the readability of the material.
    .-= Check out Mike Goad´s awesome post: A stunning, artistic video of Eyjafjallajökull volcano =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Mike,

      I agree. Some sites could improve their readability without reducing the importance of their work.

      I didn’t know Word Perfect used to have a readability feature. It makes me wonder if that would be a good feature to have as we’re constructing blog posts.

  5. Hi Barbara – I’m a wordie. I’m notorious for using words in conversation that I guess others just don’t. In fact, I was roasted in public at the conclusion of a project by having those present take a vocabulary test consisting of words I had used during meetings. Evidently someone was writing them down. We could have just made a drinking game out of it. 😀

    I agree that simplification may be necessary to reach a wider audience, and that it’s a worthy thing to do if the widest audience is your goal. But the goal I have of writing in my own voice means setting things out on the blog in the way that I would say them, and that goal is a higher priority for me than size of audience. (Is that weird?) I reread my posts out loud during editing. (Is *that* weird?) And if I can’t easily say what I’ve written, it’s revised until I’m not tripping over it or running out of breath. So maybe I’m simplifying sufficiently. ??

    And seriously, I’ve landed on sites that were quite simple in their language, and I still couldn’t understand what the point to it all was. So coherence of thought would be a big one, too.
    .-= Check out Betsy Wuebker´s awesome post: What I Learned from Motherhood =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Betsy,

      I KNOW you’re a “wordie”. You’ve written some words I’ve had to look up the definition of. But, by doing so, I also ended up learning new words.

      I’m happy you brought up the point about our posts needing to be coherent. Like you said, we can write extremely simple, but if others don’t understand our message, it’s words wasted.

  6. Chania GirlNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading some of the other comments here. Most of what is being said is feedback that I agree with.

    Like Julie, I’m a teacher, an EFL teacher at that! So I’ve become very conscious of my word choices over the years and attuning them to my audience. I feel like I do a fairly good job in my blog of being clear and straightforward.

    One of the things I would like to comment on is when people use flowery speech to convey simple ideas. I have read blogs on occasion where the blogger is so caught up in trying to “sound” a certain way that he/she doesn’t realize that what is being said doesn’t even make sense. It’s almost as if a thesaurus has been consulted for each and every word … and the end result is gobbledy-gook. That’s surely not what the blogger wanted!

    I find myself lately questioning some of the metaphors and colorful turns of phrase I use in my writing, as quite a few of my readers are non-native English speakers. Idioms and expressions that have meaning to us (and which can be played with for double effect) can often trip up those for whom English is not a first language. Conscious of this I am. Sure of what to do about it? Not just yet. :)~

    Thank you for this thought-provoking post and, yet again, the chance to talk about blogging without putting our readers to sleep. 😀

    p.s. I NEVER dumb down. Simplify: yes. Dumb down: never. Your reader/student/whomever you’re talking to needs to feel that you absolutely trust their mental capabilities.
    .-= Check out Chania Girl´s awesome post: Moving House: A New Home for Living Happiness =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      You’re welcome Chania Girl,

      That’s a good point. When we use metaphors or other colorful phrases that we’re so used to, we often forget part of our audience may be feeling left out. It’s almost like a “secret language”. And as you know, the English language is confusing enough as it is.

      I like what you said at the end of your comment about not dumbing down. That’s very true.

  7. Lori HoeckNo Gravatar says:

    As a karate instructor, I seek the moments that turn on the light bulb above a student’s head. As a writer, I write for clarity. As a blogger, I strive to follow this: “Write so most can understand easily, but if they can’t, write so they are motivated to ask, research, or re-read for understanding.”
    .-= Check out Lori Hoeck´s awesome post: Calling it incendiary or inciting creates violence =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Lori,

      Oooooh, good one. “Write so most can understand easily, but if they can’t, write so they are motivated to ask, research, or re-read for understanding.”

      I tell you. You REALLY need to consider publishing quotes. You’re so good at them. 🙂

  8. KarenNo Gravatar says:

    I do not believe that bloggers should be “dumbing down” their writing. It is very easy for a reader to check online for definitions of any words with which they lack familiarity.

    As a former TV news reporter and producer, I was told to aim for an 8th grade educated audience. That was several years ago, and I suspect that the bar has been dropped lower. If people are never faced with ideas that are challenging or language that is challenging, they will only stay at their current level with both. I want to learn new concepts and appropriate terminology and stretching my brain (and my comfort level) while doing so is part of learning.

    If we want dumb, we still have television (actually I no longer have one!)

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Karen,

      That would be sad.; if the reading level is dropping. Whereas in a perfect world, it should be going up.

      Like you, I like to stretch my brain too. And as we know, the more we use our brain, the healthier they are. I’m all for that. Keep those neurons firing. 🙂

  9. Cath LawsonNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Barbara – I try to choose the simplest words I can to explain things. But it’s easy to slip up by using abbreviations and other words that we’re so used to using in the blogosphere.

    I don’t think I could pronounce that long word at the end, let alone spell it. Imagine being a doctor and having to tell someone you’d diagnosed them with it.
    .-= Check out Cath Lawson´s awesome post: I’m Back But I Forgot An Important Lesson =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Catherine,

      I hear you. The longer we blog the more we get used to abbreviated words and assume those who are reading understand what the letters stand for. To a new blogger, it’s confusing.

      I can’t imagine that either. Being diagnosed with Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. That’s a mouth full.

  10. BradNo Gravatar says:

    Services like wordpress.com and blogger.com do make it real easy for any user to make a blog.

    You no longer need to know how to install software, or know HTML, or maintain a server…these days most if not all of that is done for you (unless you want to do it yourself).

    It’s not dumb downed…but rather just really easy to use (think Mac).
    .-= Check out Brad´s awesome post: Google (Somewhat) Omits Nexus One Is/Was a Failure. Closes Online Store =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Brad,

      You’re right. WordPress and Blogger.com do make it very easy for bloggers to get started.

      And like you said, unless a blogger wants to learn more, they can still blog without having to know everything that’s required behind the scenes.

  11. Hi Barbara,

    What a fascinating topic! I think there’s a difference between dumbing down and finding your authentic voice in writing. For instance, I used to read professional journals in my field, but got bored because they were written in academic-speak. And clearly, no one actually talks that way. I’ve spent a lot of time in academia, and never met anyone who carried on a conversation for any length of time in this pseudo-intellectual manner (at least, away from the classroom). So I think the most readable blogs are the ones where the writer can carry on a conversational tone, as if it were real life, for them. Then they’re being true to themselves and their readers are likely to appreciate it, even if perhaps they miss a few words here and there.

    That said, I know I sometimes reference obscure topics or movies in my writing, so I try to always link to an original source or explanation. That’s just my way of saying I want you to have as much information about this as possible, and you can choose to follow the link or not.

    Oh, one more thing: I don’t think people skim blogs because they’re having trouble reading them. I think they skim blogs and leave dive-bomb comments so they can get on to the next one!
    .-= Check out Patty – Why Not Start Now?´s awesome post: Fortune Cookie Magic =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Patty,

      I love you idea. Include links to that which you understand, but feel the reader may want more clarification on. Like you said, then it’s their choice to follow the links or not.

      Skimming posts? I agree, some do skim posts so they can comment and move on. Unfortunately by doing so, they often miss important messages and/or information in the process.

  12. JoyNo Gravatar says:

    Wow, such diversity in the comments– I love it!
    As a reader, I gravitate toward sites that speak to me. There are some authors who use simple language, some who use technical terms and lots of ten dollar words. I know what to expect from each author and I do like the challenge of reading reading about concepts or ideas that expand my thoughts, so if a word is unfamiliar I like the exposure that gives me.
    As a blog author, I write from my heart, quite simple in wording, because I want to connect to your heart and I don’t want anything to distract from that. So, my readers know to expect simplicity from me, and if I were to change my style I might not be as authentic and would risk alienating some readers. However, I host guest authors who do use ten dollar words or may not write as simply, because I think exposure to variety helps makes us well rounded:)
    .-= Check out Joy´s awesome post: Fearless Fun Friday…Fun in the Bathroom Mirror…. =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Joy,

      That’s true. When we find sites that speak to us, we can’t help but keep returning.

      You raised a good point. When we have guest writers, obviously they’re not going to write like we do, may use ten dollar words, and may even draw a different audience. But like you mentioned, they also expose our readers to more variety. And that’s a good thing.

  13. I keep my writing simple that’s the kind of writing that comes naturally to me.

    I really dislike big words.
    .-= Check out vered | professional blogger´s awesome post: Coping With Motherhood =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Vered,

      Your comment reminds me of how when we write what comes naturally to us, the writing process is also easier. Trying to inject big words could make it feel like a chore.

  14. DavinaNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Barbara.
    According to Juicy Studio my blog’s Flesch Reading Ease is at 77 (the recommended range is supposed to be between 60 and 70). Guess that means I need to dumb it down. Maybe if I threw in a few typos that would make a diff? 🙂

    I prefer reading words that I’d hear in everyday conversation. Sometimes when I’m reading on Twitter, I have to Google the words that people use, lol. I think deep thoughts but express them… dumbly? Hmmm, I’m not liking where this is going….
    .-= Check out Davina´s awesome post: I’m Respectfully Yours =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Davina,

      With you being a professional proofreader, I can’t see you purposely throwing in typos. Haha!

      What did we do before Google? The dictionary just doesn’t get used like it did in days past. *sigh*. (I still enjoy using mine from time to time.)

  15. Bruce DanielsNo Gravatar says:

    I like to write exactly as I would speak in a conversation with a listener. Keeping it simple and to the point, not necessarily dumbing it down.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Bruce,

      I believe that’s key. If we write like we talk, we’re being authentic and the words flow a lot easier.

  16. Kelvin KaoNo Gravatar says:

    I really liked what Lori said. When I read more technical articles, I love it when they include links for previous stuff that already needs to be known to understand that article. And sometimes that’s all the motivation that I need to chase the links down and delve into related topics (and reading lots of wikipedia articles).

    As a computer programmer, I subscribe to many blogs about computer programming. Some are really good at introducing a topic, while some gets really technical (even more so than usual). But I think every blog has a target audience. Some blogs will use more technical terms because if you don’t already have some understanding of the field, then the information is really not relevant to you.

    The “for Dummies” books like to appeal to a wider audience by writing a certain way. However, sometimes for topics that I am familiar with, I find these books to be covering things painfully slow. So I guess at some point you have to make an assumption on the target audience and write for a particular level of proficiency.
    .-= Check out Kelvin Kao´s awesome post: What You Can Learn From Popeye The Video Game =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Kelvin,

      That’s true. At some point we do have to choose a target audience since we’re not going to appeal to everyone. But, I also think that could be hard for some bloggers as they may want to appeal to everyone.

      It reminds me of the saying by Abraham Lincoln,

      You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.

      Not that we’re “fooling” anyone, but we certainly can’t please them all.

  17. HilaryNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Barbara .. great thought. I’d hate to dumb down to the extent of a Tweet, or phone text .. and I write for reasonably intelligent people to understand – I’m not an academic by any stretch of the imagination .. I just enjoy my blog & its subjects, which I hope will resonate with others.

    I can’t read things I can’t understand – I really struggle .. they’re too complicated and too involved. I enjoy blogs that are intelligent and interesting to read, giving me stimulation & where I can provide some input that relates. Sometimes I need to take my time before I comment on some blogs .. a learning curve for me (I need to be in their groove).

    I’ve enjoyed everyone’s comments so far .. relating to the blog and its owner is important .. and that’s what I try and do with my blog ..

    perhaps another aspect is learning what the blogging world is about – a medium where we can write about our interests – if the commenter isn’t interested move on – or can’t be bothered to meet us at our level .. don’t leave a comment .. no point in wasting time in this life … far too short ..

    Thanks Barbara .. no: we shouldn’t be dumbing down! Have a good Sunday and week ahead .. Hilary
    .-= Check out Hilary´s awesome post: Bat and Moth Survey Night – tonight =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Thank you Hilary,

      I hear you about those learning curves and know what you mean about having to digest the information before leaving a comment. Some blog posts are so thought provoking, they require us to step way and contemplate what was shared.

      Yes. With blogging, each visitor has that choice. They can read and/or comment, or not. They’re certainly under no obligation to participate in any way.

  18. Barbara,

    I’m very simple-minded, so I tend to write simply. Juicy Studio showed my blog’s reading ease as 65.

    As an editor, I advocate expressing ideas in the most understandable way, depending on the audience. I think 8th grade is generally a good level for material for the general public – blogs, most genre novels, how-to books … Obviously, material aimed at an academic or technical audience can be written differently.

    Word choice is not the only criteria, and perhaps not the most important. I don’t have a problem using a big word if it’s the best word to convey the thought. However, I do have a problem with awkward sentence construction, excessive verbiage, and other obstacles to reading ease.

    One of my clients (a psychiatrist writing a self-help book for the mass market) always says he is amazed that I edit his long, convoluted sentences down to simple sentences with half the number of words. (Note that it took me a long, convoluted sentence to say that!) The simpler construction and shorter sentences convey his meaning much better than his original wording.

    Dumb down our writing? No. Simplify our writing to make it clear and understandable? Absolutely yes.
    .-= Check out Lillie Ammann´s awesome post: Armed Forces Day 2010 =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Lillie,

      With you being an editor, I’m happy you shared your input on how we can say what we mean in less words, if we choose our words carefully. That not only makes it easier for the reader, but also teaches us more about structuring our work.

      I love the story you shared about your client. I’m betting he thinks you’re a real Godsend. 🙂

  19. Hi Barbara,
    The Chicken Soup for the Soul books were written at a 7th grade level because that’s the reading level of the average person. Those guys did their homework!

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Tess,

      I didn’t know that (Chicken Soup for the Soul books were written at a 7th grade level). That may be the secret to their success, however, the messages in the books are pretty awesome, too.

  20. I in the other hand think that we have enough dummy bloggers and publishing books about blogging for dummies is not a good idea.

    Some things are not for dummies 🙂
    .-= Check out Roadside Assistance new york´s awesome post: Image Gallery =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Roadside Assistance,

      There are a lot of the dummy books, aren’t there? And it seems like any time something new enters the market, a new one is written.

  21. Keith DavisNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Barbara
    I’ve read William Zinsser’s book “On Writing Well” a couple of times.
    His advice…

    “But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb….”

    It’s a great book, well worth a read.
    .-= Check out Keith Davis´s awesome post: Flying in formation =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Keith,

      What great advice. I like the part of stripping every word which has no function. When I’m writing I find myself adding unnecessary words only to later delete them.

      Haha! Now you have me thinking of how I’m wording this comment. 🙂

      P.S. That sounds like a fabulous book.

  22. MitchNo Gravatar says:

    I think that when one intentionally tries to write in a different style than what they’re used to that their submissions suffer from it. Unless you’re writing instructions, dumbing down your content, to me, makes you look, well, less of an authority on your particular topic.

    At least for your blog. Medicare, for instances, requires providers to make sure to write anything for their patients at a 3rd grade level, and I’m sure there are other entities out there that require the same type of thing.
    .-= Check out Mitch´s awesome post: Sunday Question – How Would You Like To Be Remembered? =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Mitch,

      That’s a good point. If we dumb down too much, we can lose our authority on a topic.

      I’m learning so much via these comments. I hadn’t heard that about Medicare.

      • MitchNo Gravatar says:

        Well, it’s a field I’m in, so it’s a rule I needed to know, as well as font sizes having to be a certain height and type as well. Medicare has a lot of goofy rules, I must say. 🙂
        .-= Check out Mitch´s awesome post: The Myth Of Link Building =-.

  23. “Do you think a blogger should write below their education or intelligence level just to please their readers?”

    Absolutely not.

    My blogs are clearly labeled “for beginners”, but by no means does that mean to treat readers like monkeys.

    I try to write everything in “plain English”; that does not = stupid.

    This is another area that makes an about page, or at least a small home page bio is very important. All blogs should be clearly marked – beginner intermediate, advance; or whatever.

    It would save everyone from the blogger to visitors headaches and emails.

    If a beginner reads a clearly marked advanced blog, they have no right to complain; know what I mean?

    The problem lies in those that label themselves as “for beginners”, then show off. They think the newbie will think, wow this person’s awesome, when in reality it has the exact opposite effect.
    .-= Check out Dennis Edell | Direct Sales Marketing´s awesome post: Oops I Lied-HAHA =-.

  24. I thank you for this though Barbara, I will now ask my readers what they think. 😉
    .-= Check out Dennis Edell | Direct Sales Marketing´s awesome post: Updated: Do You USE Aweber? I Want Your Affiliate Link. Part 2 =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      You’re welcome Dennis,

      Rating a blog? That’s actually a good idea. Now that we’re finding blogs in nearly every profession targeted to different audiences, like you said, a blog rating could save tons of time for all involved.

      I know what you mean about a beginner reading an advance blog. I know when I have, I marvel at the author’s expertise and then go Google the terminology they used.

  25. suzenNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Barb! Years ago I wrote for a newspaper and used the Gunning Fog Index as well as the Kincaid – I wasn’t allowed to write on more than an 8th grade level. Drove me NUTS. I love words – and as much as I love simple instructions to do something, if I’m reading for information/entertainment I say don’t hold back. Good Lord – we may learn a new word or two! I’ll haul out the 20 lb. dictionary and feast on it. When I write, I write like I talk and if there is a word here and there that was used to “spice up” or a funky expression, so be it. I am guilty of not writing FOR my readers – I just write what comes.

    My big issue with reading blogs is people who cannot use the English language properly and don’t bother to use spell check either! And I agree with the comments that people DO skim blogs, and really don’t read them – as is always evident by the totally unrelated comments.


    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Suzen,

      I don’t think that’s bad; that you “write what comes”. With your blog being a personal blog, that’s what we expect when we visit you. We’re there to hear YOU speak or to watch your video finds.

      Your comment is a good reminder for all bloggers to stop and think if they need to consider their audience, or not.

      For me, I do think of other bloggers who face what I face and hope what I share helps. For the personal blogger, your words are YOU, sharing your thoughts with anyone who will listen. But for the niche blogger, that may not be the case.

  26. George AngusNo Gravatar says:


    Interesting question. My gut level response is to write in your natural voice, saying what you want to say. I have no idea about the reading level of my individual reader so I’ll put out there what works for me and hope it works for them.

    I have been to sites where the author seemed to write just to hear themselves talk, circuitous prose that drove me mad. If that is their natural voice then so be it, if it is contrived to make themselves sound more intellectual then it is an epic fail. If something is too difficult for me to read because of the style, I won’t be visiting again.

    .-= Check out George Angus´s awesome post: Book Review: How to Fire Up (Or Just Fire) The Muse =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi George,

      I hear you. Some blogs are very difficult to read and to comprehend. I’m sure they appeal to some, but like you, if I don’t “get it”, I’m gone.

  27. J.D. MeierNo Gravatar says:

    One of the measures we use on my team is — “don’t make me work too hard.” It’s how we test each other’s writing.

    It’s a perpetual exercise to simplify and put the emphasis on results, not on parsing words or having language get in the way.

    That said, I find that when I’m clear on my audience or tribe, it’s way easier for me to hit the mark, or be clear up front who my writing is for, and who it’s not.
    .-= Check out J.D. Meier´s awesome post: More Spring Cleanup on Sources of Insight – Simplifying the Experience =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi J.D.

      I find it interesting how you test each other’s writing. That’s a good point; “put emphasis on results”.

      And yes. We do have to remember, our writing is not for everyone.

  28. SusanNo Gravatar says:

    Hello Barbara:

    I had a friend tell me when she was growing up in Argentina that the way to improve your vocabulary was to read the newspaper. When I was in college I was told by a journalism teacher to write for a 12 year old’s reading level. The first statement is how I live my life. I read to challenge myself. The second statement makes me sad because it seems to be the nature of our media. Bloggers are blogging to communicate. We can never please everyone. The best that can be done is to speak from your heart. The world will always listen to that. Thank you for this post.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      You’re welcome Susan,

      I agree. Reading a wonderful way to learn vocabulary. And like you, it saddens me to hear we should write for a 12 year old’s reading level.

      Speak from the heart. Definitely. Although it may mean we will lose readers, as long as we’re being authentic, we can proudly face ourselves in the mirror.

  29. JanissNo Gravatar says:

    I think there is a place for fairly complex words and ideas on the internet. My style of writing tends to be conversational, and while I do sometimes use multi-syllable words, the context in which I use them tends to make their meaning clear. I don’t like dumbing down too much; in fact I would invite readers to stretch their brains just a bit when they read me. Even my cat’s blog (in the link) has a middle school or higher comprehension rating. And if visitors to her site can’t understand what she has to say… well, it only means the cats have won!
    .-= Check out Janiss´s awesome post: Photo Hunt – Half =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Janiss,

      I know what you’re saying. As much as we want to appeal to a broader audience, we shouldn’t feel we need to stop using a big words if they are the best choice. Readers have a responsibility, too.

      I like that…”the cats have won”. 🙂

  30. Tony SingleNo Gravatar says:

    I agree that communication is key, but so is writing in your voice. I find that I’m often having to juggle these two things and perhaps not always succeeding.

    However, the reason that I may not always succeed in this is simple. You see, I lament the fact that our basic reading and writing level has been reduced as much as it has over the years. Part of what I like to do is challenge myself to discover new words and use them if I at all can. I’ll sometimes even shoehorn them into a different written context to see if I can find new ways to say the same old things.

    Language is fun. Writing is fun. Meanings, sentence structure, all of those things ought to be played with and the boundaries stretched. We don’t want to be stumbling into another linguistic dead end like Latin, do we? Gotta keep those little vowels and consonants moving and try to reclaim as many of those unloved and marginalised words as possible. Yeah, bring them back into the fold, baby! 🙂

    We’re so intent on just one thing that we forget the other. It isn’t ONLY about communication. It’s also about exploring new ways to present old ideas. And it IS about challenging the reader once in a while with what you uncover. With all due respect, I believe we could be in danger of losing the magic of words and language with our reductionist view of communicating. I prefer something more expansive. 🙂
    .-= Check out Tony Single´s awesome post: After =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Great thought provoking comment Tony,

      As I read the comments from those who have been in the industry how they were instructed to write for 8th grade levels, or 12 year olds, it truly saddened me. I had thought reading levels had gone up, not down.

      Your comment is making me think. It’s one thing to simplify what we share, but in doing so, we shouldn’t hesitate if we want to include a new word we’ve learned either. Like Patty said in her comment, we can include a link to the meaning and if the reader wants to learn more, there it is.

      I would hate to think we’re in danger of dumbing down or simplifying so far we lose the magic of words and language. Like you, I find words (and numbers) a joy to work with. Might it be, bloggers will be the ones to raise the bar?

  31. I always try my best to write in simple, however according to Alexa my article only suitable for college students and I should write in more simple manner. May be the stats is right but I have to maintain a standard way to communicate both type of reader, so, I’m not willing to change my style.

    Well! Once I landed a site (unable to remember the name) which is full of words that are beyond average people reach. Thanks to Firefox addon which help me to find the meanings of those words. Interestingly, that was a software review site.
    .-= Check out Arafat Hossain Piyada´s awesome post: Gadget Most: Dofollow gadget blog for link juice lover =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Arafat,

      That’s smart of you to consider your audience. If you were to write too simply, those who follow your blog might quickly leave. Obviously they’re there for your expertise and understand exactly what you’re sharing.

      That’s a great tip about using a Firefox addon to learn the definitions of words we don’t understand. It doesn’t get much easier than that, does it?

  32. Stevie GodsonNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t have a problem with simplifying what I write, Barbara. I also believe that some of the most beautiful writing is the simplest. I find that – not in all cases, but very often – obscure words or jargon are used in order to make the writers feel more intelligent or superior. To me, they simply sound pompous.
    The complex language of “official” documents – contracts, etc – is sometimes used to purposely confuse the reader (ever had a look at those ‘terms and conditions’?)
    And, in any case, to quote a couple of favourites:
    Leonardo da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
    James J. Kilpatrick: “Use familiar words–words that your readers will understand, and not words they will have to look up. No advice is more elementary, and no advice is more difficult to accept. When we feel an impulse to use a marvelously exotic word, let us lie down until the impulse goes away.”

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Stevie,

      What great quotes. Thank you for sharing.

      That’s true. Official documents are a perfect example of how words are used to confuse the reader. If we let it, we can be totally intimidated by “the fine print”.

  33. Mandy AllenNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Barbara.

    I am interested in your phrase -‘below their education or intelligence’ as my belief is that it is the writer (or speaker) who has the responsibility to make sure they are understood, therefore if we write in a way that is understood by others surely that certainly shows education and intelligence? I believe a lot of people who write the pompous gobbledegook others cannot understand often have very little comprehension of it themselves, they just dress it up to make it sound better than it is! I learnt that whilst doing my PhD.

    Enjoy the journey.

    .-= Check out Mandy Allen´s awesome post: Helping out where we can =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Mandy,

      That’s true. Many do write “the pompous gobbledgook” only to make it “sound better”, but like you said, they don’t even understand it themselves.

      Your comment reminds me of when I went back to college after many years of working in the real world and being self employed. Some of the professors believed just because “something” was written in a text book, it was true. Oh, how they dreaded it when I’d raise my hand and argue. “In the real world….”

  34. Kaye TenchNo Gravatar says:

    Gosh! What great comments to your super question Barbara! I have a passion for words, and if it is important to my post to use one not too popular, I will often include the dictionary meaning to ensure that both me and the reader are on the same page.
    Re Using less words (see sentence above!!) – Lillie’s gift to me in her comment (thanks Lillie) is about using less words to say the same thing. That is an ongoing aim.
    .-= Check out Kaye Tench´s awesome post: Emotional Healing And Narcissism =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Kaye,

      I like that; how you consider your reader by including the definition of a word so both of you are on the same page. That makes a huge difference for readers who might be too lazy to stop and check the meaning of words.

      Yes. Lillie shared great advice. 🙂

  35. No I don’t think we need to dumb down intentionally. Brevity helps. Clear and simple language doesn’t have to include big words. The problem isn’t the education level, it’s the reading level of folks who think they are educated. Thanks for your PS. My blog passed those tests. 🙂
    .-= Check out Tom Volkar / Delightful Work´s awesome post: Top Ten Tips For A Confident Career Change =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Tom,

      That’s true. We don’t necessarily have to include big words to get the message across.

      Congratulations on passing “the test”. 🙂

  36. ColleenNo Gravatar says:

    My understanding of good writing is writing at a 10th grade reading level regardless of the level of education the writer has acquired. I occasionally read a real estate blog where the blogger rarely receive comments. Probably because he uses terms that require a dictionary to understand.
    .-= Check out Colleen´s awesome post: West Pasco Washington Homes For Sale =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Colleen,

      That’s a good point. When a blogger writes in the language of their profession, if others don’t understand, they’re certainly not going to comment.

  37. SaraNo Gravatar says:

    Barbara — I’m embarrassed to admit, I have never heard of the Flesch Reading Ease, the Gunning Fog Index or the Kincaid. I will have look them up and learn about them:~)

    Most of the people who have already commented said the same things I would say:

    It depends on the type of blog. Like Mike G. said, a technical or scientific blog might be expected to have more advanced language or terminology.

    I don’t believe we should “dumb” down what we say. I believe what George Angus said…it would easy to lose our authentic voice if we did this.

    It also depends on the audience you’re seeking. If you’re writing a blog for people who may not have very good language skills, then you need to be more cautious.

    It’s also true about cultural differences. What I find hysterically funny may be offensive to someone in another country. This is a tough one and each blogger needs to know their audience.

    Personally, I like blogs that challenge me language-wise. I’m not very good at grammar or certain language skills. So, sometimes I get challenged:~)

    For example, Tony Single does this frequently and I sometimes have to rely on Google to learn about a word he has used or even a topic, but I enjoy this because he makes language interesting.

    Well, that’s my thoughts. I know I’m very late to this post, but I enjoyed it and loved reading the comments. Thanks:~)
    .-= Check out Sara´s awesome post: Story Photo: The Dragonfly =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      You’re welcome, Sara,

      Don’t feel bad. I hadn’t heard of the reading indexes until I started researching for this post. Who knew?

      You’re right. We should consider our audience, especially if we’re sharing instructions for beginners or the like. But for other types of blogs, remaining authentic is important.

      And yes, Tony is great at testing our language skills. In fact, his comment has had me thinking a lot, too.

  38. PatriciaNo Gravatar says:

    I spent 30 years writing formally and presenting papers – my blog is for me – I work at writing conversationally with words that inspire folks to be their best

    I like what I am writing better now but I love to read a well written book that has great words and metaphors and inspires me.

    I do not like reading blogs that I have no idea what they are trying to say even after carefully reading every word….what is the message that is trying to be conveyed? I don’t skim….and I try not to take every word in…..Sources of Insight and JDs lists would put me in a whole body freeze…..I have to come back several times on those 🙂
    .-= Check out Patricia´s awesome post: Alaska Adventure for the Summer 2010 =-.

    • Barbara SwaffordNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Patricia,

      I agree. Books are wonderful sources for helping to expand our vocabulary. Like you said, they can be so inspirational.

      That’s true. Some blog posts need to be read more than once. I know J.D. @ Sources of Insight can put lots of meat in his, and by rereading them, we can benefit by picking up on what we missed the first time.