Is Your Writing Understandable?

04/10/2013 05:36 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2014

I didn't know what I wanted to study in college. When forced to declare a major in my sophomore year, I ambivalently chose English.

I remember taking several English theory classes. Some of the texts that I had to read were beyond intimidating, confusing, and incomprehensible. Long, drawn-out sentences with more 50-cent words than this 19-year-old student could comprehend. When my professors asked me to write in a similarly opaque style, I had to ask my older friends for help. I once turned in a short essay that pleased one teacher so much that she read part of it aloud to the class. Rather than feeling pride, I couldn't help but be embarrassed. I didn't know what I had "written."

Back then, I had very little choice about what I had to read. Well, almost. I ultimately switched majors later that year.

The Content Deluge

The point is that students represent just about the only group forced to read certain material. Professionals have a great deal of choice about what they want to read. I am not compelled to read anything. In all likelihood, neither are you.

What's more, choice abounds. Over the past two decades, we've seen deluge of content on just about every topic. Pick a niche subject like "Big Data in healthcare" and your search results will quickly bombard you.

I think about these things quite a bit. Even if you fancy yourself a good writer (and I certainly do), it's very tough to build a tribe. Often I'll peruse a business book replete with jargon and wonder, "What was the author thinking?"

Simon Says

Now, I'm not the final arbiter on jargon. Plenty of people speak and probably think in terms of buzzwords. Still, as a voracious reader, I wonder if many speakers and authors realize this: Just about nobody is required to read your work.

My advice to current and aspiring writers: Make your words understandable or risk irrelevance.


What say you?