The Secret to Sounding Smart? Using Simple Language

It might sound counterintuitive, but using four-syllable textbook words to demonstrate your smarts will actually make you appear less capable.

“So often, our intuitions about what will impress others are wrong,” says Daniel M. Oppenheimer, professor of psychology at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He led a series of studies on how the use of language can make one appear more or less intelligent.

In one study, the researchers took essays from online college admissions essays and replaced words using an algorithm to replace shorter words with longer words and asked participants to evaluate the quality of the author. Surprisingly, participants rated the authors as less capable and less confident. Concerned that the replacement strategy used made the essays worse, the researchers took sociology dissertation abstracts, which tend to be dense in long words, and replaced the longer words with shorter words. Participants judged the authors as more capable and intelligent if they were reading shorter words.

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Put down the thesaurus: Using big words actually makes you appear less capable.

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