Confused reader

Do you eschew obfuscation?

In case I have confused you with my opening question, let me explain. Eschew obfuscation means ‘avoid being unclear’.

In terms of writing, ask yourself: Do you write for clarity? 

As George Orwell wrote in his essay, Politics and the English Language, never use a long word where a short one will do. 

The English language is an evolving language with about 4,000 words being added to the dictionary each year. Yet the two most common words in English are ‘I’ and ‘you’ – two simple and clear words. 

Is your message easily understood?

In the business world of today, acronyms abound. Added to the acronyms, there is industry jargon. Both acronyms and jargon can make it difficult for your reader if they are not familiar with this type of language. 

Think about the number of emails that you receive during a day. If you find it difficult to read an email are you likely to read it to the end? If you write without clarity for your reader, then they too will not read your email to the end. It is important that you make it as easy as possible for your key message to be understood. 

3 tips to help your reader understand your message 

Tip #1

If you use an acronym, ensure that you explain it at the beginning of the email or document.

For example, do you know what AITD means? I am using it to reference the Australian Institute of Training and Development. You may know that acronym to mean something else.

To help the reader understand the meaning of the acronym it needs to be written in full followed by the acronym the first time you reference it:

Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD)

The reader is then clear as to its meaning whenever they come across it again in the email or document.

Tip #2

Read your email through your reader’s eyes. Check if you are using industry-specific language – in other words, jargon.

Then think about your reader: Will the reader understand the industry-specific language?

If they are not likely to do so, then do not use it. If you must use it, then ensure that you provide an explanation so your reader can understand how it applies to the context of the email. 

Tip #3

Choose simple and clear words to express yourself so that your message is easily understood. 

For example, do you know what this email is asking you to do? 

A rendition of your vehicle expenses for the last month has not yet materialised and I would appreciate an early compliance with my request for the same. 

Would your first reaction be to label the email as ‘too hard’? Then go to one where the message is clear and you know exactly what you need to do.

What if, instead, it was written in this way: 

Please provide your vehicle expenses for last month. 

Which of these emails would motivate you to act? If you are thinking the second one, then it is likely that your reader would react in the same way too.  

Eschew obfuscation

If you need to write in your role (and most of us do) then it is important that you make it easy for your reader to understand your message. To do this, use simple and clear words that will not cause confusion. In other words, eschew obfuscation.

If you would like to learn more ways to write clearly, then you may be interested in my Business Writing Made Easy Online Program or contact me for a no obligation discussion about your business writing needs.

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Learn About This Author
Maria Pantalone

Maria Pantalone

Maria Pantalone is the author of Success Talks: Conversations with Everyday Leaders. Maria works with individuals and teams to make communication their strength so that their message is heard. She provides tailored programs in presentation skills, business writing and effective communication as a leader and team member. Maria’s programs help her clients to excel in their role and be recognised as leaders in their field.

Comments 2

  1. Avatar

    Hi Maria, great topic. I think you could present this to many in various industries – government, lawyers etc. There seem to be a good number who think it impressive to write in a ‘complicated’ way, but instead ‘baffle’ the reader.

    1. Avatar

      Thanks Jim!

      I am fascinated by how and why people use their chosen words. Are they intentionally confusing their reader by using complex words? Or is that their everyday language? Somehow I doubt that it would be their everyday language.

      I would love to hear from a user of complex words to let me know their thoughts as to why they write in this way.

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