It's All About the Simple

The writing process, writing advice, and updates on your work in progress
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Joined: October 6th, 2010, 3:33 pm

It's All About the Simple

Post by highspot » October 6th, 2010, 3:46 pm

Your readers are smart people. That doesn’t mean you should strive to use big words and complex constructions in your writing. Smart writing is clear writing, and that means simple writing.

Most newspapers and magazines are written for a 9th or 10th grade reading level. Why? Because these publications want their writing to be quickly and easily understood, with a minimum of confusion.

Simple writing is not about “dumbing down” your ideas. It’s about making them easily accessible to as many people as possible. Simple writing won’t make you look like a neophyte; it will give your ideas power, helping them spread faster to more places. If you want people to talk about your book, they have to understand your content and be able to describe it to their friends in a few sentences.

Avoid industry jargon and business buzzwords. Nothing locks people out of a conversation or makes their eyes glaze over faster than a paragraph crammed with acronyms, insider terms, and words larded up with extra syllables in an effort to sound lofty. Businesspeople, I’m looking at you. Cut wastage, drop utilize, and forget orientate when waste, use, and orient will do the trick.

Write like a human being. If you’re struggling to convey a big idea in plain words, ask yourself what you would say if you were having coffee with a friend. This friend knows you — there’s no need to puff yourself up to impress her. But she doesn’t know your area of expertise — so skip the industry shorthand. Your imagined conversation should help you with phrasing, flow, and word choice.

What Does Complexity Cost You?

This blog post started out as an entirely different article. I wanted to write about a new technology I’d heard about called SharedBook. I first read about SharedBook on Mike Shatzkin’s blog. The capabilities of the technology, as described by Mike, sounded really interesting:
This is a wikipedia-type capability with a spin that publishers and authors will really like. With wikipedia, the edits and annotations from “the crowd”…actually change and revise the content itself. With SharedBook’s annotation technology, the original published content remains locked, and the changes are appended as footnotes! The footnotes can be associated to a chunk, a paragraph, a word, a symbol, a diagram, a picture. Whatever you like. And using the capability to manipulate content into a one-off book that SharedBook is known for, a reader can order up a printed book with whichever of the footnotes the reader wants in their own copy of the book.
So off I went to the SharedBook website to learn more. After five minutes of poking around, I was no wiser than when I had arrived. This is a sample of what I found:
One of the unique aspects of this data integration involves mapping the data into a rich data model that allows flexibility for clients, partners and users to collaboratively manipulate the data in a client-supplied environment.
Huh? Tell me what you mean, man. I think the above sentence is trying to say the same thing that Mike said. But which one do you understand?

Whether writing a website or a book, have a human conversation with your readers. Cut the jargon and the fancy words. It’s all about the simple.

Jennifer Tribe
Highspot Inc.

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