Are you smarter than a fifth grader?

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If you’re smarter than a fifth grader, your intelligence, and more specifically your vocabulary, might be holding you back.

How’s that?

If your write and speak at a post-graduate level and your audience is comprised of people with little or no college, your audience won’t follow everything you say, nor do what you ask them to do.

Does that mean you should dumb down your writing and speaking? Indubitably.

There, someone reading this might not know that I just said yes. They might deduce that from the context of my other words, but it might take a few seconds, and whether you’re selling ideas or legal services, a few seconds could cost you the sale.

When you use simpler words, however, all of your readers and listeners will understand you, including those with a bigger vocabulary or a higher education. In addition, simpler words make it more likely that your thoughts will be perceived more quickly and understood at a deeper level.

As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t write merely to be understood. Write so that you cannot possibly be misunderstood.”

By anyone.

Whether you’re writing an article for your website, an email to your clients, or an appellate brief, unless you have a good reason to do otherwise, it’s best to use plain language. Some experts recommend writing at a seventh grade level. Others claim fourth grade is the cut off. I say, use common sense and when in doubt, err on the side of simple.

Now I just used the world err. According to an app I just discovered, Simple Writer, err isn’t on the list of the 1000 most common words in the English language. But to my chagrin, neither is the word error or the word mistake.

The Simple Writer app tells you if the words you type are on the list, and if not, it suggests that you consider replacing them.

That doesn’t mean you have to.

When I typed, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” into the app, it told me that “fox” and “lazy” aren’t on the list of most common words but to avoid using them would clearly be absurd for any audience. The point is to be more aware of what you’re writing and continually seek to make it simpler.

Because everyone understands simple.

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