After many years of blogging, and consistent with my desire to move toward retirement, we have ended the Insights blog. Thanks to Doug Bedell for his years of blog support.

You Can’t Say Much With the Most Used Words

Posted on February 4, 2013
Filed Under Communication, The Writing Life | Leave a Comment

Technical writers are always being urged to take the time to be clearly understood. And that’s a noble aim. But if it should mean writing only in the most commonly used words, the first thousand of them, no more, it probably can’t be done. “Thousand,” itself, is not one of the “ten hundred most common words.” How do we know that, what kind of quirky excursion have we been on this time?

xkcdWell, we came upon the Up-Goer Five Text Editor. notes that it’s been written by Theo Sanderson, a geneticist, after a comic strip named to describe the Saturn V rocket (“rocket” isn’t one of the ten-hundred words either). Having come upon the free editor, bloggers Chris Rowan and Anne Jefferson set up a Tumblr blogger page called Ten Hundred Words of Science. advises that “they’re asking scientists to describe what they do for a living using Sanderson’s text editor. The results are thought provoking, interesting and quite often humorous.”

So give it a try yourself. The value of your effort will likely be greater appreciation for the bundling of our most common words – and how children learn by using them. We gave it a try and came up with an impromptu thumbnail essay on spartan expression:

“Well, now, here we’re going to try something that will be hard for most of you – in fact, not possible.

“We were going to try writing about what we do without using the name of our field. But, as it says, it’s not very easy to write with the most used words, and them only. So we quit.

“Try it yourself. It’s hard to explain a hard idea using only the most used words, ten hundred of them. You might be so glad to leave Up-Goer that you will use all kinds of words to be happy again. Sad, sad how little you can say in the most used words; it takes a lot more time to try to explain something in words that are used a lot. Oh, dear.”

Clear enough? – Doug Bedell


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