On Word Choice and Knowing Your Audience

There’s this old saying that’s been passed around and repeated so many times that it has almost lost all meaning. A picture is worth a thousand words. And especially in this modern age of social media and shrinking attention spans maybe that’s true. Instead of typing out a thoughtful comment to a post on Facebook, you just send over a funny GIF with a 90s pop culture reference.

Maybe instead of taking the time to write out a short message to a friend or loved one, you reply with a series of emojis because you think it’s clever. I’m not judging. I do it too. Or maybe you haven’t even gotten this far into this blog post and I’ve already lost you. I’m not judging here either. I skim through blog posts all the time and I’m sure I miss a lot of great content along the way.

As a blogger, when you do come up with some decent content and it really does get read by the people you want to be reading it, you want to make sure not only that you are giving off the impression you desire but also that your words are being understood. And that you are being respected at the level that fits with your objectives.

The Power of a Million

At this point in time, it’s estimated that there are well over one million words in the English language. One million. And that doesn’t even necessarily account for the multiple meanings that a single word may have. When I use the word “green,” I could be referring to the color, using the slang term for money, or talking about a putting green in golf. These are not the same thing and they use the same word.

If that isn’t mind boggling enough on its own, somewhere around 8,500 new words are created each and every year. Language continues to evolve and the way that we choose to use the language evolves with it. The relationship goes both ways. At some point in time, someone had to come up with the word “microwave” or “television” or “ethernet,” because the very thing they describe didn’t even exist yet.

Tools of the Trade

If you’re a chef, the tools you have in the kitchen might include a set of knives, a gas stove, a cheese grater, a food processor, and all sorts of other things. If you assemble furniture, the tools you have might include a screwdriver, a hammer, some pliers, and so on. And as a blogger, the main tools that you have are your words. And there are over one million of these tools readily at your disposal.

That’s why it might surprise you to hear that, on average, people only use about a total of 5,000 words when speaking and around 10,000 words when writing. In total. That’s not talking about a single blog post, but talking about anything you will ever write in your lifetime. Put another way, you are using less than 0.1% of your potential vocabulary. You’re leaving out 99.9% of the English language. That sounds like such an incredible waste, doesn’t it?

Not really. Not necessarily.

Are You Cut Out For This?

Far and away the most important thing that you have to consider when writing a blog post is your intended audience. It’s always going to be a bit of a balancing act. If you “dumb it down” too far, your post will be far too simple to actually be useful for your readers. Worse yet, they might feel like you’re simply patronizing them and you could quickly lose your audience.

On the flip side, if you were to articulate your pontifications as only to elevate your apparent verisimilitude, you’d also lose your audience because they’d have no idea what you’re talking about.

It’s about choosing the right words for the right audience at the right time. So, while a picture may be worth a thousand words in some context, never forget that a carefully selected word can easily be worth a thousand pictures too.

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