Write Like a Normal Person

Growing up, I read a lot of British victorian novels, and so I thought every decent sentence had at least two semicolons. Then in high school I took a summer English class at my local college, I wrote a paper that analyzed the meaning of the plant life in the novel Rebecca.* My professor, the delightful Jane Ashworth, pulled her glasses off her nose, stared at me, and said, “Why don’t you just write like a normal person.”

The next paper I wrote was about Disney heroines, and why people like them even though they are completely unrealistic. I wrote it pretty much the way I would talk, with straightforward sentences, basic vocabulary, and a solid pruning of adjectives. I got an A, and I never looked back.

There are times when you don’t want to write like a normal person – when you’re obfuscating meaning, when you’re writing something emotionally awkward, when you’re transmitting a gift to the Sultan of Brunei on behalf of the Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms. But in general, you shouldn’t put on your business-speak hat, or your academic hat, or your Thomas Hardy hat. Don’t use “utilize” when “use” will do. Don’t try to sound smart. If you want to get meaning across, just say what you have to say, and say it like a normal person. Your readers will thank you.

* I am not kidding. These are the kinds of things I did for fun.

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