Dancing with words: a sign of intelligence

sign of intelligence scott keyser

As human readers and writers, we’re always looking for a sign of intelligence in making decisions. Whom to read, whom to hire, whom to contract…the list goes on. How do we do that? What are the criteria and are we even aware of them?

Yesterday I had a NeuroKinetic Therapy™ (NKT) session with a therapist called Sue (for a sports-related knee injury). NKT addresses musculo-skeletal problems by getting the whole body working and moving in balance and harmony.

I always come out of Sue’s sessions feeling and moving better than when I went in; I literally skip home. That got me thinking about fluidity, fluency and flow, both physical and mental. When we see somebody walking, running or dancing — activities demanding physical co-ordination — we can see at a glance whether they’re moving well, with grace, elegance and ease, or whether they’re moving badly or with difficulty.

It’s the same with writing.

Within a few moments we know if we’re in the hands of an artist or an amateur. If it’s well written, our eyes flow across the lines and down the page, assimilating the meaning of the well-chosen words and merging with the rhythm set by the writer. Fluency and flow make it easier to decode and process the words. Our perception of the message and the messenger are positively influenced. We find the sign of intelligence we were searching for.

On the other hand, if the writing is clunky, clumsy and hard to process — all too common in B2B writing — the reader won’t hang around for long. Most business readers are unforgiving, abandoning this type of writing sooner than you can say ‘plain English’. Losing your reader = communications failure.

Sign of intelligence:  a study

The search for a sign of intelligence isn’t just about the language.

A 2005 study conducted by Daniel Oppenheimer among Stanford University graduates found that visual disfluency caused by poor choice of font or typographic style lowered their perception of the author’s intelligence. So the content of your writing is just one of a kaleidoscope of elements — including font, point size, leading (line spacing), page grid, line length and graphics — that need to function in concert to move the reader both intellectually and emotionally.

This doesn’t happen by chance. Though writing well is neither an innate gift nor a Ninja-style black art, but a learnable skill…it still has to be learnt. The craft has to be mastered.

As I skipped home from my therapy session thinking about the connection between writing and movement, I recalled the words of one of the greatest writers ever to grace the English language:

“True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.”

Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

Are your business communications answering the call for a sign of intelligence? Or are they missing the mark? Find out by learning about plain English, writing human and much more as I walk you through how to win bids and tenders, nail your pitch and transform your writing. It’s all on my website, writeforresults.com.