We academics with all our training, knowledge and authority often acquire a rather large ego that tends to make it difficult to admit we are terrible at communicating.
So here it is. I freely admit to being guilty of poor communication when I was an academic.
As a postgraduate doctoral researcher with three (yes, three!) masters degrees under my belt, I used to think I was a good writer.
Now, looking back, I can see how wrong I was.
Consider this sentence, pulled at random from a dissertation I wrote:
“This thesis accordingly argues that there is a clear historical parallel between the initial development of the concept of global civil society and the evolution of the idea of civil society in the nineteenth century.
What does this even mean?
The trick I learned after I quit my PhD and entered the business world was to write in spoken language. That’s right. I started to write as I would speak.
Our ability to communicate through the spoken word has evolved over tens of thousands of years since we acquired the ability to speak.
Our written communication skills, however, have only had a few thousand years to evolve since the invention of the writing.
You don’t need complex sentences to express complex ideas. When experts talk to each other about a topic relevant to their field, they may use different words than the average layman. However, the best communicators will still use those words as they would in conversation.
From my time in academia, I suspect that the people used complex sentences to describe a topic when they had something to prove. Complex sentences were also used by people who didn’t want the substance of their ideas to be challenged.
If you really want to spread your ideas, it needs to be communicated in ways that others can understand. This way the idea can be improved through conversation and easily shared by others.
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There are situations where using spoken language isn’t appropriate, such as:
- When you’re writing poetry
- When you’re a corporation communicating bad news to the public
- When you’re Oscar Wilde
In all other situations, spoken language is much better.
Here’s how you can make sure you’re communicating clearly.
Before you send that email or publish a new piece of writing, read it out loud to yourself and correct anything that doesn’t sound like conversation.
There’s another solution.
If after writing something you notice it’s still being expressed in complex language, try explaining the topic to a friend. Take notes as you explain it and use this language the next time you write.
The stakes are high when it comes to communicating. When we emphasize clear communication, we make ideas accessible to a broader audience. This democratizes the creation of the ideas that will shape our future.
All through history, decisions that impact the lives of the majority of people have been made behind closed doors by people in positions of power. Often, this is justified by virtue of them being “experts” and being better able to make good decisions.
When each of us learns to communicate clearly and effectively, we improve our ability to come up with ideas that will inspire others to help us turn it into a reality.
We won’t be relying on other people to make decisions for us.
Let me know what you think in the comments below. Or, you can join Ideapod, a place where people learn and connect around ideas.