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Why dumbing down is dumb
👉 and why you should assume your readers are intelligent
One of the things I’ve been learning recently about writing is the power of trusting your instincts. Especially if you’ve read a lot and so have a decent feel for what good writing is like.
And one big area that my instincts say is misguided is this idea about “dumbing down” your writing. Keeping it at a low reading grade level like Hemingway did, for example.
The idea being, of course, that by keeping things simple you ensure that everyone understands what you’re saying.
I’m not so sure.
Not that I’m advocating overcomplicating your writing. Certainly not. There’s way too much of that.
But it’s this idea of “simple” or “dumbing down” I don’t like.
Being clear is good. But writing simple is condescending. At least in my view.
And it results in writing that isn’t how you would speak. That isn’t you.
I like to write like I’m explaining something I’ve discovered to a friend.
And my friends are intelligent. I bet yours are too.
They may not know what I know about a topic. So I have to explain certain things.
But I don’t need to dumb down my language. Nor explain basics.
And on the off chance they don’t know a few basics. I credit them with being able to look them up.
As a reader, I find it much more pleasant to be treated as an intelligent participant in a conversation rather than a newbie that needs to be spoon-fed everything.
And as a writer, I find it much easier to just write about a topic as if I was chatting to a friend. Having to think about whether the words I use are too complex just breaks the flow and results in an unnatural concoction that, ironically, is more difficult to read than what I started out with.
That’s not to say my (or your) writing couldn’t be improved with some decent editing to make it clearer.
But I don’t think it’s a good idea to start out by thinking your readers are unable to comprehend anything complex. That leads you to talking down rather than talking as peers.
Of course, I could be wrong. It’s just my opinion, and I do know that a lot of great writers wrote at surprisingly low reading-grade levels.
But for me, I’d rather give my readers the benefit of the doubt.
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