In school I've always been taught to use colorful adjectives/verbs in writing. I recently wrote a blog on Medium and sent it to a couple friends, they advised me to use simpler language.

I'd love to have you guys take a look, and give some feedback ~ especially areas where I can improve... it feels like my English is getting worse by the day.

  • 2
    Or you're just trying to get people to click on your bit.ly link. If you want feedback, post a few excerpts directly. Still, this is fairly subjective and there is likely no "best" answer. – Jared Andrews Jun 13 '16 at 5:58
  • Isn't much of a place to get clicks... I don't even think spammers deign to come here. Anyway, I was advised to post my article here by a moderator on English Language Exchange. I'm ocd about long urls, I'll change it to the original – Daniel Reed Jun 13 '16 at 8:02
  • Read your work and see how it makes you feel. Does the "colorful" word add to the precision of your description or distract from the main message? How well does the prose flow? How colorful are other "successful" examples of the genre you're writing in. Bottom line: Which constructions work best for the effect you want and for the audience you are addressing? – Joe Jun 15 '16 at 7:37
  • Interesting point... I find it quite difficult to critique my own writing. Most of the time, I can sense something wrong, but can never put my finger on it. I definitely agree about reading other acclaimed works in the relevant arenas for comparison. Still have lots to learn! – Daniel Reed Jun 15 '16 at 7:47
  • Hi danm07 welcome to writers SE. Can you please add some examples in your question and skip the reference to your blog? Later readers should be able to make sense of the Q&A without having to click back and forth. – Bookeater Jun 18 '16 at 20:42

It boils down to balance between primitive and pretentious. Both are bad, but unless you are a simpleton, it's easier to fall into pretentious than boorish.

The rule to avoid this is simple: if a simpler word carries exactly the same meaning as the elaborate one, pick the simple one. If you need a phrase (two simpler words or more) to simplify the more elaborate word, use the more elaborate one.

Regardless, make completely sure the word you use means exactly what you want it to mean. There's not many faster ways to make an ass of yourself than by using a wrong elaborate word.

I'll bold the good uses of words that replaced simpler alternatives correctly, and correct the wrong uses. Of course this is subjective, and the border is blurred, but you can get the rough clue where you went wrong.

Somewhere in the transition from print to electronica, our news generating process broke down. Today, we have in place an incentive systems that awardsrewards viewership, and ergothus ad revenue, on grounds of ethical flexibility over journalistic integrity. It is process that subverts the underpinnings of good reporting — accuracy, objectivity, and impartiality for practically all things pursuant todriving the clicks and shares.

In the last couple years, we have been besetbombarded with stories about Trump demagoguery and phone/tablet/TV releases where the only distinguishable improvementvisible advance is the 2mm curvature / reduction in thickness from the previous. When I open my news app, it feels like I’m trapped in some microcosm of myopiashort-sightedness — article after articles of political idiocy, and celebrity banality. So what has changed?

Some highlights:

  • misuse of awards. The system doesn't give viewership as a prize. It gives a prize for viewership.
  • Good use of subverts the underpinnings. Simplification of that would be roughly two times as long.
  • I'm not adamant about beset. It feels a little archaic to me, but that's just my personal impression.
  • It feels like distinguishable improvement could be improved.
  • Microcosm is a nice metaphor, but not being a native speaker, I had to look up Myopia. That's deterrent.
  • Wow, this is really helpful, thanks a lot for looking it over. I've been told that I write with atypical sentence structure. Was it uncomfortable to read the first time through? Is there a preferred sentence length / structure when writing? – Daniel Reed Jun 13 '16 at 21:53
  • @danm07: I'd say it was pretty standard - but then - not a native speaker. – SF. Jun 13 '16 at 22:22

Depending on the setting, the writer can use a conversational tone as a goal. The sentence probably needs work if it sounds pretentious when spoken aloud, or requires a deep breath to get through. Write with the reader in mind. However, even when the presumed audience is highly educated, readers are likely to prefer clarity over "fancy" language.


What strikes me on reading your opening paragraph is that you have a dozen abstract nouns and no concrete ones.

Somewhere in the transition from print to electronica, our news-generating process broke down. Today, we have in place an incentive system that awards viewership, and thus revenue, on grounds of ethical flexibility over journalistic integrity. It is a process that subverts the underpinnings of good reporting — accuracy, objectivity, and impartiality for practically all things pursuant to clicks and shares.

There's nothing concrete here — nothing I can see in my mind's eye. Imagine your first line were something like Gone is the age when printers arranged the news in little blocks of lead. Okay, it's hardly an inspiring first line — but do you see how all of a sudden there's an element the reader can picture? I can see little blocks of lead, in a way that I can't see the abstract idea of 'flexibility' or 'underpinnings'.

Are you getting the difference? Concrete nouns slip more easily into your reader's brain. They're much, much easier to latch on to.

Abstract nouns are important — they help you express complex, interesting ideas — but your writing will be strongest with a balance. If your first three sentences contain seventeen (seventeen!) different abstract nouns, and no concrete ones, there's a good chance your reader's eyes will glaze over. But if you understand this, you can write better.

  • This is really great feedback, I think you hit the nail right on the head. Btw, your example is actually really good. So it sounds like I should start out an idea with more concrete language, and gradually more abstract outwards? If you have any good resources on concrete writing, it would be super appreciated! – Daniel Reed Jun 14 '16 at 19:33
  • Thank you! Hope it was helpful. The best writing resource I've ever found is a blog called Death of 100 Cuts by the author Tim Clare. It's focused on writing fiction, but it did wonders for my ability to simply construct a sentence. If you have any interest in fiction, I'd recommend it. This post is probably a goodish place to start: timclarepoet.co.uk/?p=2558 – Cakebox Jun 15 '16 at 6:41
  • Oh, but a content warning! The language is often extremely ripe. Best writing resource I've ever read, though. – Cakebox Jun 15 '16 at 6:48
  • +1 because it's good advice, but it doesn't really answer the OP's question. – Joe Jun 15 '16 at 7:26
  • Thanks, @Joe. Apologies if this seemed a bit oblique. My thinking was that when friends (especially non-writer ones) feed back 'Use simpler language', you should trust that as an expression of the symptoms ('This was hard to read'), but stay open to the idea that they've guessed the wrong prescription. Put simply, I thought that by trusting what his readers think he needs to fix, Danm07 might be asking the wrong question. – Cakebox Jun 15 '16 at 9:41

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