200 words to make your readers feel smarter

Editing a particularly difficult document this past week — full of extra words and turgid, academic prose — I was reminded of Elizabeth Swann’s priceless line from the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  Using the most pretentious dialogue she can muster to confound Jack Sparrow, Swann says, “I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request.”

In other words, “No.”

Which brings me to the topic, once again, of plain language, and to Joseph Kimble’s excellent reminder that the goal of good writing is NOT to showcase how brilliant you are (or by proxy, your client is), but rather to have your reader feel smarter.

With that in mind, what words work better than others?  The simpler the better, I say. “Eschew obfuscation,” William Safire would offer, if he were still here to advise us.

Of course, there are always exceptions for emphasis or cadence, but in pursuit of clarity and simplicity,  I offer a list below of alternatives that are easier to digest. (I’m sure you have your own to add.  If so, let me know!)

Instead of …. Try … Instead of … Try …
 

accordingly

additional

administer

advantageous

aggregate

alter

anticipate

assist

attain

communicate

compensation

comply with

component

comprise

concerning

concur

consequence

consolidate

currently

customary

decrease

demonstrate

designate

desire

disseminate

elapse

employ

employment

encounter

endeavor

equivalent

exhibit

expedite

expend

expenditure

facilitate

following

formulate

forward

frequently

hence

however

illustrate

impact

implement

inception

indicate

indication

individual

inform

initial

initiate

inquire

 

 

so, therefore

more, added, other

manage

useful, helpful

total

change

expect

help

reach, become

write, tell, talk

pay, payment

follow, meet

part

consist of, contain, include

about, on, for

agree

result

combine, join

now (or delete it!)

usual

reduce, lower

show, prove

name, choose

want, wish

send out, distribute

pass

use

work, job

meet, face, run into

try

equal, the same

have, show

hasten, speed up

spend

payment, expense, cost

make easier, help

after

work out, create

send

often

so, therefore

but

show

affect, influence

begin, start, carry out

beginning, start

say, show, suggest

sign

person

tell

first

begin, start, set up

ask

 

locate

magnitude

maintain

manner

maximum

mitigate

modify

necessitate

necessity

notwithstanding

numerous

objective

observe

obtain

occur

optimum

option

parameter

participate

per annum

per year

personnel

portion

possess

preferable

present

previous

previously

prior to

proceed

provide

provided that

purchase

receive

regarding

reimburse

remainder

represents

request

respond

retain

selection

semiannually

similar to

solely

specified

submit

subsequently

sufficient

terminate

transmit

transpire

utilize

visualize

 

 

find

size

keep, continue, support

way

most, largest, greatest

reduce, manage

change

require

need

despite

many

aim, goal

see, watch, follow

get

happen

best

choice

limit, guideline

take part

a year

a year

people, staff

part

have, own

best, better, preferred

give

earlier, last, past

before, earlier

before

go, go ahead

give, send

if, but

buy

get

about, on, for

repay, pay back

rest

is, makes up, stands for

ask

answer, reply

keep

choice

twice a year

like

only

named

send, offer

later, then

enough

end, stop

send

happen

use

think of, imagine

 

 

 

 

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