Being thoughtful with your words can make your writing profoundly easier to understand.

Use simple words

Use the simplest words that get your meaning across.

Don’t use complicated words without good reason. A classic example is use versus utilize. In most cases you can use either word and the meaning doesn’t change. In those cases you should say use because it is the simpler word. See Use simple words and phrases for more examples. If there is an important difference in meaning between the simple word and the complicated word, and you’re sure that your audience understands this difference and will agree that it’s important, then you can use the more complicated word.

People understand your ideas and instructions faster when you use simple words because they are more likely to already know and understand the simple words. For example, think about the words commence and start. People usually learn start years before they learn commence. They see start much more often than commence. Using uncommon words just slows people down.

People are more likely to use simple words in their search queries. See start, commence on Google Trends for example.

Simple words do not dumb down your content or insult intelligent people. Highly educated people, experts, and professionals want to understand your ideas and instructions as fast and easily as possible, just like everyone else. In fact, they may have extra need for simple words, given how busy they usually are!


Match your audience’s vocabulary

Speak your audience’s language.

Look at their search queries. Update your own writing to match the words your audience uses in their search queries.

Think about the typical search engine results page. You see the title of the page followed by a snippet of content from the page that the search engine thinks is relevant. When the words in the title or snippet match the exact words you used in your query you are more likely to visit the page.


Use jargon carefully

Define jargon the first time you use it if there’s a non-trivial chance that your core audience isn’t familiar with that term.

Jargon is the specialized terminology of a field. Define jargon the first time you use it. You can skip defining it if you’re certain that the jargon is a core part of your audience’s vocabulary. Use Google Search Console to get data on your audience’s vocabulary.

Jargon is dangerous because it obscures your message for anyone who hasn’t memorized the meaning of the jargon. If you’re writing for a specialized audience then it’s OK to use that audience’s terminology. In fact, not using their jargon probably makes your writing verbose and confusing. Imagine you’re writing for personal trainers and you keep referring to the heavy metal ball with a handle instead of just saying kettlebell.