Reading dies in complexity: Online news consumers prefer simple writing (HILLARY C. SHULMAN, DAVID M. MARKOWITZ, AND TODD ROGERS, 5 Jun 2024, Science Advances)

Over 30,000 field experiments with The Washington Post and Upworthy showed that readers prefer simpler headlines (e.g., more common words and more readable writing) over more complex ones. A follow-up mechanism experiment showed that readers from the general public paid more attention to, and processed more deeply, the simpler headlines compared to the complex headlines. That is, a signal detection study suggested readers were guided by a simpler-writing heuristic, such that they skipped over relatively complex headlines to focus their attention on the simpler headlines. Notably, a sample of professional writers, including journalists, did not show this pattern, suggesting that those writing the news may read it differently from those consuming it. Simplifying writing can help news outlets compete in the competitive online attention economy, and simple language can make news more approachable to online readers.

Good writers communicate with the readesr, not themselves.