"Simple writing is persuasive. A good argument in five sentences will sway more people than a brilliant argument in a hundred sentences."
- Scott Adams
Good writing is simple writing. Simple writing is clear writing. And clear writing is not easy.
"A clear sentence is no accident."
- On Writing Well, a classic writing guide
The Hurdles of Level-3
In order to get good at writing, you must learn how to write simple paragraphs with clear sentences.
This 3-minute lesson will help you get there.
But keep in mind, the path to simplicity is a tricky one.
That's because simplicity hides its own beauty. It's difficult to appreciate the beauty of a simple paragraph because you don't see the hardwork that goes into writing it.
I want to help you navigate simplicity by telling you about 2 hurdles that often trip writers by creating unnecessary complexity in their writing:
HURDLE #1: Not understanding the cost of being thorough
"What if the reader doesn't get my point?"
This anxiety can lead you to be cautiously thorough in your writing.
You run to cover all holes in order to make sure that the reader doesn't miss the point you're trying to make. You explain all your quip remarks and every interpretation of your sentences.
What you don't understand is that by plugging holes so incessantly, you make your writing feel suffocating.
The price of being thorough is losing the attention of your readers.
Reader's willingness to continue reading decreases in proportion to the number of words you use.
And if it's a choice between being thorough and keeping the attention of your reader, you are almost always better off choosing the latter.
HURDLE #2: Unlearning the fanciness of fancy words
The peculiar genius always speaks the complicated tongue. Our culture loves to associate fancy words with exceptional people. From Sherlock Holmes to Tony Stark - a genius's default is incomprehensible garble of long, smart-sounding sentences.
That's why, you associate impressive words with impressive ideas.
You use a long, fancy word when a short, common synonym conveys the same information. You use "assistance" when "help" will do, "facilitate" when "ease" will do, "utilize" when "use" will do, "pertinent" when "relevant" will do.
This creates needless friction for the reader.
What's worse - writing complex sentences using fancy words gives you a false impression that you are saying more than you actually are.
If you truly have something worthwhile to say, you should feel proud of telling it simply. You must resist the impulse of using a 2-dollar word when an everyday word works just fine.
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't know it well enough."
- Richard Feynman, the celebrated Nobel prize winning physicist
Overcoming the hurdles to finish Level-3
I've got 2 pieces of advice for you:
1. Understand the 80/20 rule of writing
Good writers know what to write. Great writers know what to omit.
Omission is an important but challenging skill. Understanding the 80/20 rule can help.
"You can get 80% of the value by putting in 20% of the effort." - that's the famous 80/20 rule.
There's little data backed evidence to support the rule but I still find it useful because it gives me a good mental model. It makes me focus on intelligently chosing where I put my effort.
Here's an 80/20 rule for writing - you can convey 80% of the information using 20% of the words. You just need to find those 20% words and delete the rest.
Value your reader's time, fanatically - cut down what they need to read.
2. Embrace constraints
Embracing constraints is a powerful way to unconciously improve your writing. It forces you to use simple, clear language that delivers the maximum impact.
"You should write it as if you were paying by the word to write it.”
- Neil Gaiman
It works because constraints are advantages in disguise.
Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative.
That's why it's a good idea to introduce arbitrary constraints in your writing like limiting yourself to a smaller number of words than you think you need.
This lesson will get your through Level-3 of writing well.
In the next few days, I'll publish lessons to take you through more levels. So, follow me on Dev.to and on Twitter to get the updates.
You can also sign up for the Clear Writing, Clear Thinking email workshop to get everything over email.
Along with the lessons, the workshop also contains small tasks that you can complete to practice what you learned.
I'm giving it all away for free!
Top comments (2)
Very timely - was just talking to a developer on my team where I was telling them they needed to collapse 12 slides into 1 and sell the idea they have.
Great graphs - especially the last one.
The concept of brevity is applicable everywhere - be it articles, slides, Slack messages or Notion docs!
Glad that you found the article useful, Greg. :)