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HomeGuidelines > 1. Trim that Text!  > 1b. Use short words.                                                               





Audience Fit



1b. Use short words.

  • Choose words with fewer syllables. (We want a lower character count).
  • Opt for words that describe physical objects or actions. (These words tend to be shorter).
  • When in doubt, pick the familiar or frequently used word over the rare or unfamiliar one.
  • Make sure I can pronounce the word.


Use words that readers can easily and accurately understand. Effective text features:

  • Concrete words
  • Words that appear frequently in the language
  • Short words (fewer syllables)
  • Pronounceable words
  • Link labels that create clear context for the linked page
  • Words that readers are familiar with (the audience’s vocabulary set).

In the English language, these word features often correlate: high-frequency words tend to be shorter, more pronounceable, and more concrete, and they contain fewer syllables. —Spyridakis (2000)

See bibliography: Bork (1983), Horton (1990), Krug (2000), Levine (1997), Morkes & Nielsen (1997, 1998), Nielsen (1997a, 1997b, 1999f), Spyridakis (2000), Sullivan (1998), Williams (1990).

Other ways to trim that text

1a. Cut any paper-based text by 50%.

1c. Make some sentences short.

1d. Make most paragraphs short.

1e. Delete marketing fluff.

1f. Move vital but tangential or supplemental material.

1g. Convert repeating categories of information into tables.

1h. Beware of cutting so far that you make the text ambiguous.



Audience Fit

Resources on brevity

Taking a Position on Brevity

Heuristic Online Text (HOT) Evaluation for Brevity












If visitors want... How well does this guideline apply?
To have fun Some folks enjoy an occasional gnarly word, like tergiversation (for lying). Indulge them.  But use small words for key points.
To learn Go small, unless you have to use a particularly tangled piece of jargon. In that case, explain it before using it.
To act The small words have it. Focus on real objects, real actions.
To be aware Simplicity is a sign of honesty and humility.
To get close to people You can find a short way to say what you mean.  Why bore or offend with gigantesque gallimaufrey?

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