Using big words in English can actually make you look stupid

    By IvyTies
    Using big words in English can actually make you look stupid

    Have you ever used big words (such as obfuscate, vernacular, and erudite) in your writing to impress other people, even when you could have used simpler words (such as hide, language, and learned, respectively)? If you are like the 86% of Stanford students sampled in a survey, you probably believed that using big words makes you appear more intelligent. When writing your college application essays, you’ll be tempted to intentionally replace simpler words with more complex words to make yourself look smarter.


    But beware!! Research by UCLA Professor Daniel Oppenheimer shows that when people unnecessarily use more complex words instead of simpler words, readers think the writer is more stupid. This is because writing with complex words is difficult to understand, and because they cannot understand the text, readers assume that the writer must not be very intelligent. Of course, this does not mean that you should never use complex words—the research finding applies to needlessly complex words. Rule of thumb is that whenever it is possible to replace a complex word with a simple word, then must use the simpler word.


    A classic example after 9/11 was - “Passengers are not allowed to congregate around the vestibules” often announced inside the flights. This announcement was often lost in translation. The above announcement has since then been simplified to - “Passengers must stay seated until the toilet near cockpit is empty”. The new announcement is clear to understand and easier to follow.


    Complex words are just one factor that can make you look stupid when admission officers read your college application essay. Other things include using difficult to read fonts (use Arial font for maximum effectiveness), justified alignment (use left alignment), insufficient line spacing (use at least single line spacing), and insufficient contrast (black font on white background gives maximum contrast).


    So keep in mind: unnecessary complexity is NOT a sign of intelligence but a sign of stupidity. Make your writing as easy to understand as possible for the reader.


    Stay tuned on IvyTies – a social network for college admission, to get more advice and help on how to prepare for your college application.