Is it dumbing down or just getting to the point?
As someone who has long written at a college level, this is rather difficult for me. It's not so much that I have to dumb down. I tend to be a bit verbose. Some audiences I have written for appreciate a “13th grade” level of writing. That is, high school graduate or college level. But yes, on the Web, being concise and easily scannable is important.
To assist with my dilemma with readability, I've been consulting the Hemingway app. I use it as a guide to see what sentences are simply too complex. I try to break up what I can. This alone often takes me from 12th or “13th” Grade to about 9th. But I did take one article from 13th to 7th recently.
Truthfully, I haven't had to really dumb down anything. I do sometimes go off on some esoteric rants. These the app probably won't help. I don't really take out all the adverbs it wants me to cut. I really like adverbs.
I am working on cutting unnecessary cases of “very.” For some reason, I'm fond of using that word for sometimes rather extraneous emphasis. And yes, I continue to use some higher grade vocabulary words. It's still OK to use a dictionary and/or thesaurus, you know.
Is being too “smart” in your writing a death sentence for your Web writing?
Trust me, you can still be smart with your writing while making it accessible to wider audiences. Actually, breaking down your sentences into smaller chunks is good anyway. Web readers consume so much content today that the easier it is to quickly peruse an article, the better.
Using high level vocabulary and having complex sentence structures just isn't “cool” anymore. I'm all for making my work more accessible to the masses. As Albert Einstein once famously said:
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.”
And, by the way, this article is written at a 5th grade reading level. Thanks to Hemingway App.