This is a question that most writers (especially in academia) face sooner or later when looking at their texts. I am facing it right now! Do I use long and complicated words and a vocabulary from a specialized field to show I really know what I am talking about (and maybe intimidate readers from other fields), or do I explain everything in every detail so even someone not familiar with the topic will understand everything (thus maybe giving the impression that I have trouble understanding it myself)?
While studies suggest, that the percentage of long words used in assignments positively correlates with success in exams (essays and multiple choice), a recent study from D. Oppenheimer suggest, that the use of overly long words makes the writer look less intelligent. However, in this study undergraduates judged the intelligence of the writers. It might well be that a professor – more used to complex texts – would have judged differently. So at the moment we are probably best of adjusting the complexity of our texts to our target audience and hope the the contents of the text are impressing the audience regardless of our writing style.
– David Huesmann
D. M. Oppenheimer, Applied Cognitive Psychology 2006, 20, 139–156.
J. W. Pennebaker, L. A. King, Journal of personality and social psychology 1999, 77, 1296–1312.