• Last modified 3051 days ago (April 14, 2011)


How smart should I sound?

A man who claims to be one of my five regular readers told me Monday that he is glad I have gotten back to writing this opinion column. He said he reads what I have written here first every week. I thought that was pretty nice. But then he said he thought I was a smart girl and he is sometimes challenged by the words I use. Uh-oh.

Now this guy is no slouch. I am not sure how much formal education he ever had, but he has a good mind and reads a lot so I assume he has picked up some expanded vocabulary words in his long lifetime. If I make him hesitate over a word, I bet he figures out a way to find out what it means because he has a thirst for understanding what they are telling him. That makes me think I am helping him expand his mind. I like that!

The reason I said “uh-oh” is because one of the several newspaper gurus I have talked to in the past 10 years said that in this business we should all be writing to folks reading at a seventh to ninth-grade level. We have to be sure the reading public understands the information we trying to present. We ought not be too lofty with our terminology.

I don’t remember who said that and I don’t remember why I was even involved in a conversation about reading levels to which journalists should aspire. That is just one of those trivial facts that clog one’s brain.

So what do you think? If I challenge someone I think is fairly worldly, someone who actually has a lifetime of practical knowledge and who appreciates the printed word, am I doing my job? If I make him think, is that helpful?

Or should I be aiming for the lowest common denominator — the person who won’t bother to look up a word — just to keep him reading in hopes he is absorbing something from the information I am presenting? Should I skip the idea that something more might come from the story or make it simple just to keep him reading?

This is probably a pretty boring opinion column for most of you, but I really would like to know what you think.

So that is your assignment for today, boys and girls. Think about why you read a community newspaper. Do you want it short and simple or should the staff toss you a curve every now and then to make you think? There is no right or wrong answer for me. I am just flummoxed about what you readers might choose and why. (And how many of you had to go look up that word?)

— Susan Marshall

Last modified April 14, 2011