Bill Bennett

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Simple writing is best – keep it clear and direct

Simple writing is good writing. It is direct, clear and precise. It is unambiguous.

As a writer your goal is to get ideas to your reader.

You want to do this in a way that is fast and accurate.

The best way to do this is by putting as few barriers as possible between your message and your audience.

Forget what you learnt about writing in school

You may have impressed teachers and exam markers with your grasp of obscure long words and clever grammar. In the real world simple, straightforward language works best.

For many would-be writers this is the hardest adjustment to make.

Keeping it simple applies to all types of writing. It applies to every audience.

Think of your readers

Not all your readers are native English speakers. Not all them are highly educated. It’s unlikely you’ll impress those who are both with fancy words and cleverness.

Not every reader has intimate knowledge of the subject matter. We all have to begin somewhere.

  • If you have something worth saying (or writing) prefer short words over long ones. Words with Anglo-Saxon roots are easier to understand than ones from a Latin background. They are also easier to spell.
  • Use the smallest number of words needed. Where possible keep sentences and paragraphs short. A paragraph should contain a single idea.
  • Avoid jargon and foreign words.
  • Try to write in the everyday speech of ordinary people, but don’t overdo the chattiness and avoid slang.
  • Most of the time the active voice is better than the passive voice.
  • Learn how to punctuate.

Short, snappy writing works best online

First, people are less ready to read long pieces online than short articles.

Second, people read online material about 25 percent slower than print. Jakob Nielsen explains why in In defence of print. Nielsen wrote his article in 1996, but things haven’t changed.

Third,  people get distracted easily online. There are advertisements and links to other websites as well as bleeping notification of incoming emails, tweets and instant messages.

If you write a brief article, there is more chance a reader will get to the end before skipping off elsewhere.

Fourth, skilled writers aim for brevity because good, vigorous English is concise.

A writer’s goal is to get messages to readers as swiftly and as accurately as possible.

Get on. Say what you need to say. Get off.

Leave the fancy, flowery stuff to poets and fiction writers.