Choose short, simple, easy-to-pronounce terms
Which of these food additives is more dangerous: Hnegripitrom or Magnalroxate?
Most people said the more difficult to pronounce Hnegripitrom was the most hazardous, according to a recent study by Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz at the University of Michigan.
But neither is really a food additive. (In fact, neither is really a word!) So why does one seem more dangerous?
Makes me sick. People tend to rate things that are hard to pronounce as more risky than things that are easy to pronounce, according to an article in Very Evolved. (Participants in the study also rated amusement-park rides more likely to make them sick when their names were difficult to pronounce.)
This is just one more argument for choosing words that are easy to understand and easy to pronounce. It’s also another argument that the VP of Engineering’s 15-syllable words are not OK for the client newsletter.
Now that’s scary — and sickening.
‘Fluent’ words sell more.
The shorter and easier-to-pronounce your words and ideas, the more readers will respond to them, according to a new study by Princeton University psychologists Adam L. Alter and Daniel M. Oppenheimer. They found that:
- “Fluently named” companies outperform hard-to-pronounce ones. A $1,000 investment in a group of stocks with easy-to-pronounce names initially yielded $112 more in profit than the same investment in a group with difficult names.
- Pronounceable ticker symbols (PER) outperformed those that were not (GTS) after a day of trading.
- People are more likely to believe a saying that rhymes (“woes unite foes”) than one that means the same thing but doesn’t rhyme (“woes unite enemies”). “What sobriety conceals, alcohol reveals” is more believable than “What sobriety conceals, alcohol unmasks.”
Simple, easy-to-understand information often outperforms complex writing. Other studies have shown that people find “fluent,” or easy-to-process, information to be more:
Bottom line: People prefer the simple to the complex.
‘Fluent’ words more trustworthy
When information is attractive and easy to understand, people are more likely to believe it’s true than if it’s unattractive and hard to understand.
Even if the statement’s false.
Studies have found that people are more likely to:
- Accept a statement printed in an easy-to-read format than when it was printed on a colored background and therefore harder to read.
- Believe a rhyming statement than a non-rhyming one. “Birds of a feather flock together,” for instance, was seen as more “true” than “birds of a feather flock conjointly.”
- Find unfamiliar graphics, like Chinese ideographs, appealing the more often they viewed them.
Familiarity breeds content. Why these results?
“We may feel that something is familiar, and, therefore, conclude that ‘there’s probably something to it,’ simply because it is easy to read,” writes Norbert Schwarz.
Schwarz is a researcher in the field of “processing fluency,” or how easy it is to understand information.
Plus, he says, the easier information is to process, the better it feels. “Again,” Schwarz writes, “we often misread this positive feeling as a result of the object’s characteristics and conclude that it is really pretty and appealing.”
The best way to make your ideas more credible: Make them easier to understand.
Simple words more trustworthy, II
Note to engineers, lawyers and management consultants: More than eight in 10 Americans are more likely to trust a company that communicates in clear, jargon-free language.
That’s according to Siegel+Gale‘s trust survey of more than 1,200 American homeowners and investors. It’s just the latest study to show that people are more likely to believe information when it’s communicated in clear, simple language.
Here are the results:
- Complexity and lack of understanding played a significant role in the current economic crisis, according to 75% of survey respondents.
- “Banks, mortgage lenders and Wall Street intentionally make things complicated to hide risks or to keep people in the dark,” according to more than 60%.
- And nearly eight in 10 called for the president to “ mandate that clarity, transparency and plain English be a requirement of every new law, regulation and policy.”
“People are desperate for clarity and simplicity in order to make informed decisions,” says Alan Siegel, founder and chairman of Siegel+Gale.
“There is a huge opportunity for government and business to overcome cynicism and regain lost trust through the way they communicate with their constituents and customers.”
Choose fluent words
People prefer words and ideas that are:
- Fluent: Short, simple and easy-to-pronounce words perform best.
- Familiar: Repeated exposure to a word, phrase or idea makes people more likely to prefer it.
- Facile: People find rhyming statements, for instance, to be more believable than those that don’t rhyme.
Words do matter. Choose yours carefully.
Sources: Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz, “If It’s Difficult to Pronounce, It Must Be Risky: Fluency, Familiarity, and Risk Perception,” InterScience, July 29, 2008
“Dangerous Words,” Veryevolved.com, Feb. 9, 2009
Adam L. Alter and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, “Predicting short-term stock fluctuations by using processing fluency,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, June 13, 2006
Norbert Schwarz, “On judgments of truth & beauty,” Daedalus, March 22, 2006