Keep it simple – you’ll be in good company



Why do so many people smother their prose in clouds of unnecessary words? Most would agree that writing simply is the best way to get their message across, but they find a sense of security in verbiage.

That’s why for many writers in business, being short on time translates into being long on text. It’s easier to fall into the comfortable ruts of stock phrases (please do not hesitate to contact me with any queries, concerns or considerations you may have . . .) than to think of snappier alternatives.

Supporters of the more-is-more school of thought argue that dense text suggests you’ve got your subject surrounded, literally. You mean business and you sound knowledgable. Some think if you pack it in and include strings of adjectives you improve your chances of hitting the mark at some point along the line.

You can make your written word as palatable as possible for readers by heeding the advice of great writers. Make a conscious effort to strip clutter.

Like most people, your readers are short of time. Keep them in mind at all times! They’re not waiting to be impressed by your seniority or erudition. They’ll be grateful if you tell them what they need to know clearly and quickly. As Churchill once said: “Short words are best.”

True, some people find it more difficult to be disciplined in their writing than others. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s words ring true when he said, “Easy reading is damned hard writing.”

And simplicity is just one aspect of good writing. Joseph Pulitzer expanded on the theme when he suggested we “put it to them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.”

Or perhaps you should refer to Kurt Vonnegut’s advice to writers: 1. Find a subject you care about. 2. Do not ramble, though. 3. Keep it simple. 4. Have the guts to cut. 5. Sound like yourself. 6. Say what you mean to say. 7. Pity the readers.


Derryn Heilbuth has worked as a newspaper, magazine and television journalist. Before founding Businesswriters & Design, Derryn was Publications Editor at Westpac Banking Corporation. She has an Honours degree in English, a Masters degree in journalism, has written a book on small business, taught at university and TAFE and now conducts seminars on better business writing and strategic writing. In addition to her broad corporate communications and publishing experience, Derryn has developed a particular expertise in sustainability communications.

Posted in Sustainability communications

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