“If you write about your expertise from a place of contempt, maybe you’re not so smart after all.”
In a recent Twitter feed and article, writer and academic Ian Bogost wrote about the ‘wrongheaded’ idea many academics have that they’ll have to ‘dumb down’ their work to reach a broader audience.
Academics, like all experts, are used to writing for a specific audience that understands technical language and has similar background knowledge and experience. But that doesn’t mean their message needs to be ‘dumbed down’ to reach a wider audience. The whole reason to share information with people who don’t know what you know is so that they might also learn about it.
This is true for any expert who writes about what they do – from those in medical and legal professions to those in technical trades, business and government. People are curious and can think deeply about all sorts of things, but they are also busy. They need you to help them understand why they should care.
“Showing someone why a topic you know a lot about is interesting an important isn’t dumb, it’s smart,” said Bogost.
This is especially true if you’re also telling people how important that information is.
The main goal in writing is usually to put your message across clearly and concisely. Readers want an effortless, readable and clear writing style. Plain language is clear language – it is simple and direct but not simplistic. Plain language is a way of presenting information that helps someone understand it the first time they read or hear it. It is a direct writing style that uses everyday language. And it is for everyone.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking that plain language is only important to people with low literacy or poor academic skills. Plain language isn't ‘dumbed down’ and can be used for any kind of writing, aimed at any audience. Assuming that sharing expert information means it will be ‘dumbed down’ suggests that there is a problem with the audience, instead of with the expert who is refusing to speak to that audience.
Part of the reason that some academics and other experts believe that sharing their knowledge will ‘dumb it down’ is because writing complex ideas and information in a way that is interesting and understandable to non-experts is hard. It is even harder to do this well. Not all academics or experts can, or should, try to do it themselves. This is where organisations and professional writers like us can come in. This is what we are experts in – making complex texts clear, concise and understandable to a broader audience. We don’t dumb down, we clarify and engage.
Bogost’s tweets have had a positive response with other academics, writers and publishers and those from other industries who face the same reluctance.
You can read more in Bogost’s Twitter feed and in his article on The Atlantic website.
You can also find out how we can help you reach a wider audience through plain language, as well as Easy Read here.