That Silly Microchip in your Brain

According to Jesse Phillips in the excellent book Outspoken: Conversations on Church Communication:

There is a microchip in every adult brain. It is amazing. It helps you take your simple thoughts and cover them with smart-sounding language. You come out sounding smarter and more professional, but your message gets clouded and confusing. This is lame. It’s natural, but it’s lame. Fight this tendency. Don’t believe in the microchip? Think about the last time you sat down to write an email to a client—or your boss (or even an article like this!). Most of us naturally try to write in a flowery, formal way when we sit down to write. … Therefore: Fewer words = better. Fight the temptation to add more or bigger words. The longer and more complicated your communication is, the less clear you are, the fewer people understand you and the fewer people connect with you.

This advice to keep your tone and vocab simple reminds me of what C. S. Lewis told a fan in a letter in 1965:

  • “Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.”
  • Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one.
  • Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”
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