Do you think using long words makes you look smart? Daniel Oppenheimer knows it doesn't. A professor of psychology at Princeton University, he is the author of a new study to be published in a recent edition of Applied Cognitive Psychology. The study goes by the amusing title: Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.
But the study's findings are anything but funny for wordy writers. In a series of five experiments, Oppenheimer found that readers tend to rate the intelligence of people who wrote essays in simpler language, as higher than those who used more complex words. Yes, higher. Interestingly, the same "halo" effect applied to people who used simple fonts. The simpler the fonts, the more intelligent the writers were thought to be.
"One thing seems certain," says Oppenheimer. "Write as simply and plainly as possible and it's more likely you'll be thought of as intelligent."
I wonder if the same is true of writing in academic journals, when academics judge each other? I know that I value clear writing and tend to be annoyed by writing that demonstrates the apparent purpose of intentionally obfuscating the obvious.