Skilled communicators have always recognized – and warned against – the temptation to use “big” words to sound impressive. Brevity and simplicity are always best, as the Latin poet Ausonius noted even 17 centuries ago: “No man pleases by silence; many I please by speaking briefly.”
Speaking (or writing) briefly and simply isn’t easy. It takes careful thinking to clarify what you want to say. And it takes ruthless editing to distill a first draft of your words into simple, straightforward language. But the results, in terms of the message you deliver to your audience, are worth it.
“It is easier – even quicker, once you have the habit – to say ‘In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that’ than to say ‘I think,’ ” wrote George Orwell in his classic, “Politics and the English Language.” However, he added, “By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself.”
For example, which of the following two sentences would you rather read?
“In order to utilize our human resources for maximum return on investment, your organization should be predisposed to leverage its internal capabilities in concert with our own.”
“To get the most out of our team, your company should be ready to work with us as a full partner.”
The “pretentious, Latinized style” Orwell warned against more than 60 years ago is still everywhere. And it crops up frequently in business communication, especially when companies are trying to impress would-be customers: “utilize” instead of “use”; “in order to” instead of “to”; “leverage” instead of – again – “use.” But “-izing” and “-izationing” everything doesn’t impress readers so much as it makes their eyes glaze over. And it loses your message.
In business-critical communication, that’s the last thing you want to do.