Don’t write like a spiny cedar!

The triangular spikes that studded the tree’s bark caught my eye along the Costa Rican trail. They’re the spiny cedar’s protection against sloths who would scale it. When you write, please don’t put spikes on your text. They’ll turn away the time-pressed readers who are your sloths.

What are the spikes in your writing?

In many cases, the spikes in advisors’ writing are ten-dollar words: fancy-schmancy jargon or Latinate words that could easily be replaced by plain English.

For example, I’ve long disliked the word “mitigate,” as I wrote in “Can you make a case for mitigate?” “Financial writers clinic: Getting rid of ‘mitigate,'” and “BNY Mellon: I liked your ‘truth ad’ until you used that word.”

By the way, if you’d like to see a genuine spiny cedar, my husband and I took this photo on the Teak and Canal trail of Hacienda Baru on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

4 replies
  1. Steve Tannuzzo
    Steve Tannuzzo says:

    Good advice!
    A member of my networking group uses “mitigate” every week in his talk. He’s been doing it for years, yet I’m sure more than half the group couldn’t properly define it.

  2. Fern
    Fern says:

    Well, i understand where you’re coming from, but as a fellow writer, I hate to dummy down my copy to the lowest common denominator. I am all for using precisely the right word to fit a given context, and if that word be “mitigate,” then so be it!

    The problem is that “plain English” really means 5th grade English to many college graduates these days, which is quite sad.

  3. Susan Weiner CFA
    Susan Weiner CFA says:

    It depends on the audience. Personally, I’d have a hard time hitting the fifth-grade level even if I tried.

    However, I prefer not to make text more complicated than it needs to be.

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