Your Language Determines Your Audience

This is a guest blog post

I bring you another guest blog post. This one was written by Phil Rosen, and it is precisely what I envisioned when I set out to feature guest bloggers. It is an excellent piece, and more importantly, it teaches me something about writing. I feel compelled to wax-lyrical about this piece, but I shall let it do the work for me.

How your vocabulary can grow or shrink your audience

Despite the fantastical landscapes and stories they craft, writers are people too. And writers, like non-writers, enjoy when others applaud their intelligence and wit.

Writing isn’t done for the compliments, though human vanity takes them into consideration nonetheless. One way to accrue praise as a writer is through language. Language and vocabulary constitute two of many tools for writers; both can be used incisively or haphazardly.

Flexing a broad, cultured vocabulary can be enticing for a writer seeking credibility and status. Sentences strung together with complex, multisyllable words is something that can give off the perception of intelligence or sophistication. Whether or not this is an accurate perception, however, remains questionable.

Anyone that uses the word insalubrious instead of the word unhealthy must be really intelligent—right?

Readers—not writers—make the call here.

It isn’t self-evident that elevated diction makes for better writing. “Better writing,” really, depends on the audience. Whether an audience can read your writing, and whether they do read your writing, depends heavily on the language employed.

    Does the audience understand what the writer is trying to communicate?

Is the story taking a backseat to the language being used?

How many of the words are actually necessary to tell the story clearly?

Language determines the audience. The bigger the words, the smaller the audience. The opposite is true too. Writing that can be understood by a seventh-grader can be understood by a massive audience (e.g. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series).

This rule of thumb isn’t inherently negative. Many popular works are written for academic, higher-educated audiences. Complex language demands an elevated literacy and comprehension level. This type of language is less comprehensible; the audience for it is smaller and refined.

At the same time, outdated, literary words like beseech, effulgent or perchance can muddle a story and suspend the readers’ understanding if they are abused. Rather than following the narrative, the reader may find their nose stuck in a dictionary, playing the role of interpreter rather than audience member.

The message here isn’t to avoid using complex language, but a writer must realize that language can either limit or broaden an audience. An article or book written in simple, colloquial language, has a much larger audience. More people can access and digest it, compared to a more convoluted writing style.

In Politics and the English Language, George Orwell, one of the great writers of the 20th century, put a different angle to the issue,

    “What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not     the other way around.”

Sounding smart — or, trying to sound smart — with words shouldn’t be prioritized over communicating meaning. It can come off pretentious and disingenuous, rather than intelligent. The meaning of a message should precede the word choice. Fixating on a single word or phrase rather than concentrating on the intended message is unfruitful.

Meaning can be lost when it isn’t the primary communication goal. Selecting words that best relay information opens up a story to all readers. Selecting words in an attempt to, instead, relay eruditeness can drown the reader in verbiage, therefore minimizing the audience.

The words you choose to include— or omit— impact who can and will read your writing. Language is what selects our audience; choose wisely.

Living well requires reading well. Check out Phil’s Essential Reading List for books to make you think, feel, and unlock your creativity. 
Phil is a travel writer and editor based in Hong Kong. To see more of his ideas, visit his blog Phil’s Next Stop.

I particularly enjoyed ‘I Write for a Living at 22. Here’s How I Got Here‘. I am fascinated by people who find their calling in life, fascinated and jealous.

Connect with, or stalk, Phil

Author: Louis

Spend less than you earn, Invest the surplus, avoid debt. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

28 thoughts on “Your Language Determines Your Audience”

  1. Excellent post. I try to find the best words for my meaning in my blog posts, too. I want my posts to be easy to read, informal, and informative, The grammarian in me would make a few changes in this piece, but overall, good and important writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You caught my attention with your title and subject content. I clicked to read further,Then you started in on not using boring words and words that are hard to pronounce, trying to hard words. Then you lost me…you went on and on using that same very bad technique( you used boring ,hard to pronounce words ) . im enjoying your blog bc I see the uniquness in your style. Realgoodstuff 🙂

    keep up the good work.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great post, I don’t mind pulling out the dictionary now an then, it’s a learning curve. However if I have to do it 10 to 20 times then it becomes tedious, thus losing interest in what I’m reading. I like the Orwell quote. 🌎✌🏻❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Let the meaning choose the word.” This is the key. Artificially selecting words in an aim to make our writing sound a certain way is counter-productive. When we find our authentic voice, we will find our audience.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I totally agree. It’s important that audience understand what we are blogging about. Complicated words can sometimes create confusion and wrong interpretation of article. On the upside, if my interest is to learn new words, checking each difficult word on dictionary can enhance my vocabulary, despite taking longer time to understand the full article.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good post! Thank you for sharing it, Phil and Louis!

    While I substantially agree with the points raised, my own experience might be usual. I seldom come across bloggers who strike me as trying to impress me with their erudition. Instead, I far more frequently come across bloggers who seem hellbent on dumbing down everything they say in order to appeal to ten year olds. Like about every third blog I explore seems to be written that way.

    The problem is, a whole lot of ideas cannot be insightfully expressed in language suited to sixth graders. Consequently, those blogs tend to read like the blandest baby food. It’s hard to stick with them for more than two or three posts.

    Then again, maybe it’s just bad luck I keep coming across such blogs. Maybe they’re rarer than I think they are.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I am a relative beginner, and write largely for my own entertainment. This probably means I am destined to appeal only to readers who think the way I do. That said, I love to learn and the core message of this post will stick with me. Certainly no floccinaucinihilipilification 😀

    Like

  8. I feel like the number one way we are going to connect with the people we are meant to connect with is by using our own voice. Whether that includes perchances or ain’ts or beseeching engulfments. And the only way to “find” our own voice is to start using it, period.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you are right, Nadine. Unless someone is a professional writer who has been assigned the task of addressing a specific market, I believe people are best off focusing on writing in their own voice — whatever that may be. In that manner, they tend to attract people who understand them and alienate people who don’t. Both cases are wins for the writer.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Letting the meaning choose the language is a good tip, yet one should not be afraid of erudite words. Develop your own voice. And, remember, there is a difference between trying to sound smart and being smart. Dumbing down one’s writing is an insult to your own skill and to your audience.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I enjoy reading and writing as if I am having a casual chat with another or others. Too much focus on complicated words gives me the impression the intent is to “show off” rather than provide readers with an enjoyable post. I feel writers should have their own style and write what comes to them freely. Attempting to add in phrases, sayings, poetic contractions, etc doesn’t always enhance a written piece and sometimes results in loss of the intended meaning.

    This is an excellent piece. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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