No not necessarily.
Actually there are two sides to this issue. Using big words can both help or hurt your writing.
In chapter 6 of my book Concision: A No-Grammar Guide to Good Writing, I’ve explained why you should not use big words. In chapter 7 I’ve argued why you should.
Below I’m reproducing chapter 6 of the book. Although I believe the chapter can be easily understood by anyone, it would be better if you read it after reading this post where I’ve introduced the topic of concision.
To read chapter 7 and everything else, please purchase a copy.
Don’t use big words
Oh! don’t use big words. They mean so little.
—Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband
Does this sound familiar?
“You should use big and bombastic words in your answers. You cannot compromise on language. Get into the habit of reading a dictionary. Take notes. Learn big words. And then use as many of them as possible in your answers during the exam.”
This is the advice that our English language teacher gave us when I was in class twelve. And it worked.
The more difficult words we wrote in our answers the better marks we got.
These are the kinds of reasons why many of us are ingrained with the idea that using big words is a mark of sophistication. It’s not.
See for yourself what the associate editor of The Charlotte Observer wrote to one of its columnists.
I thought you use foreign words and phrases in your column because (1) you like to show off, and (2) you take delight in irritating people. … So let me ask. Why do you use, in your column, foreign words and phrases, and unfamiliar English words, that are unlikely to be understood by the average reader, or at least the average editor? Surrounded by dictionaries, I await your reply. (Source; emphasis mine)
And this is what a research published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found:
Most texts on writing style encourage authors to avoid overly-complex words. However, a majority of undergraduates admit to deliberately increasing the complexity of their vocabulary so as to give the impression of intelligence. This paper explores the extent to which this strategy is effective. Experiments 1–3 manipulate complexity of texts and find a negative relationship between complexity and judged intelligence. (Source; emphasis mine)
Big words should only be used when no easier words work. (But also see the next chapter.)
Wordy: The heavens bore a plethora of colors variegated with every kind conceivable.
Concise: The sky contained all kinds of colors.
If there is any information that the first statement contains and which is not contained in the second, I fail to see what.
Wordy: I am fed up with his chicanery idiosyncrasies and his perfidious traditions.
Concise: I am fed up with his tricky and deceitful behavior.
Wordy: His parsimonious attribute won’t let him acquire a transferred possession of a new car.
Concise: His frugal nature won’t let him buy a new car.
Concise: His frugality won’t let him buy a new car.
Wordy: Use your brain else you will ensnare yourself into a kaleidoscope of misapprehensions and awkwardly constructed thought processes.
Concise: Use your brain else you will get confused.
As you can see, using pretentious words can result in deadwood while the simpler version of the same statement will be concise.
If using unfamiliar words was really a sign of good writing then the only good writers would have been the ones who would have memorized complete dictionaries.
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde is a very popular play known for its literary merit. There are hardly any sesquipedalian terms in it.
As I said above, use bombastic words only when your meaning is so specific that it won’t be conveyed by any other word. And if you had to refer to a dictionary to see what “sesquipedalian” means, I have proved my point.