Why is simplicity so hard? Some of my clients have worried that simple writing dumbs down the message and insults the reader. I disagree – and I successfully convinced my clients that clear, concise writing shows actually respect for the audience.
Here’s what I tell clients about the power of simple prose:
1. Readers never complain that the writing is too easy to read. I’ve written for investment bankers, lawyers and academics. None of them ever said: “I like to crack cryptic codes when I read; please add more business jargon.” That’s because simple copy flows, improves readability and saves readers time.
2. Leading business magazines keep it simple. As The Economist’s style guide states, “The first requirement of The Economist is that it should be readily understandable. Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought. So think what you want to say, then say it as simply as possible.”
3. Brilliant business people keep it simple. As Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
4. Legends understood the power of simplicity. Einstein nailed it when he said, “If you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Similarly, Winston Churchill advised, “A vocabulary of truth and simplicity will be of service throughout your life.”
5. Simplicity leads to trust. Transparency is increasingly important in business. To build trust among investors, clients, employees and the public, keep your messages simple, honest and transparent. If you want to win, lose the spin.
6. People do business with human beings, not robots. Business people are just like the rest of us. They want to understand your message, not be impressed by it. So, communicate with them in the same simple style you would use when talking to a friendly acquaintance.
7. Simple language is accessible. Particularly in multiethnic societies, it makes good business sense to adapt to your target’s language needs. Since English is a second language for 1 in 5 Canadians, 1 in 5 Americans and 1 in 13 Britons, why risk alienating a significant segment of your audience by using complex language? Keep your message simple to maximize your appeal.
How do you keep your messaging simple?
Lisa Goller helps businesses tell their story. As a Toronto-based Strategic Freelance Writer & Editor, she helps executives and entrepreneurs stand out, look good and save time. Learn more at lisagoller.com
Office for National Statistics (UK);
U.S. Census Bureau