What do you think of the following sentence?
Establishing a favorable initial impression on others and inducing the inkling that one is an individual with an astonishing intelligence is an objective coveted by all and sundry, but not for all it is an effortlessly feasible aim.
Does it sound like something written by a smart person?
How about this one:
Everybody wants to make a good first impression and convince others he is smart, but not everyone knows, how.
If you are looking for ways to come across as intelligent, the second sentence is more likely to help you achieve that. Science says so. Or, at least, these were the findings of studies led by psychology professor Daniel M. Oppenheimer.
The science of fancy
Most of Professor Oppenheimer's work is dedicated to finding key principles in human decision making. That includes what we pay attention to, how we form our likings, as well as how we assess others.
Some of his research examines how the language you use affects how intelligent you appear to others. While an academic vocabulary definitely does demonstrate higher education, it does not make you seem more intelligent.
In fact, using simpler and easier to understand words makes people think you are smarter. How come?
Clear language is simply more effective
One of Daniel Oppenheimer's research papers describes that writing in a needlessly complex manner has an adverse effect on readers. The five different studies conducted at the Princeton University, USA, have similar results: people evaluate overly-verbose writers as less smart.
Things that were tested during these studies were how ease of understanding affects decision making and assessment of author's intelligence. Participants in the described experiments had to evaluate not only texts with long words and difficult phrases, but also hard to read fonts and even low toner printouts.
As you could expect, readers didn't enjoy challenging texts. What may surprise you is that the complicated language was what made them evaluate the confusing writers' as less intelligent.
Other studies conducted by Oppenheimer's team prove even more what a big impact language has on the decisions we make. Difficult to pronounce stock names, for example, were less likely to be purchased. Just as politicians with complex names had a significant disadvantage in polls.
According to Professor Oppenheimer, it all comes down to processing fluency. If something is needlessly complex and difficult to understand, it is perceived more negatively (unless the source of the difficulty is apparent, as in a badly printed text, for example).
Another thing to note: participants in the Princeton experiments admitted to doing something most of us are guilty of making their academic texts deliberately more complex by using less common words and longer sentences to appear more knowledgeable.
This tactic may work in an academic environment to some extent, as long as the complex synonyms used were relevant. In real life, however, this strategy has exactly the opposite of the intended effect.
According to Oppenheimer's findings, people evaluate good communicators more positively. Easy to process information is associated with higher likability and intelligence.
Less is more
It is a commonly known fact ever since language exists, people use it to achieve something to inform, to convince, to entertain. And, sure thing to make an impression.
The better you are with words, the more likely it is for people to listen. And now you know being good with words doesn't necessarily mean using complicated ones.
Do you want to sound smarter in your academic paper? Knowing what you are talking about is a must. Using short, common words in a clear and easy to follow manner is just as important.