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KISS--Keep It Simple and Short

The most useful advice I received when starting my business was to write in plain language. That rule works across all fields, including academia where they sling a lot of big words and long sentences. One professor told me, “I need to use big words because the ‘semantic load’ of my ideas is too large for small words.” He got it wrong: The weightier your ideas, the simpler your prose should be. So what does that mean? Here are two components of plain language.

First, use simple words. For instance, when you read, ‘You need to avoid prolixity,’ do you stumble on ‘prolixity’? Multisyllabic words slow down readers and hinder comprehension. The problem is that writers think they sound smart if they use big words. But it’s not about them. It’s all about the reader. Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Would you think someone was smart if you couldn’t understand your loan contract? No! You’ll think, ‘What the heck am I’m signing?’ Using shorter words means you’re communicating. Which is the point! Second tip, keep sentences short. If you see a long sentence, get out the hatchet. Experts recommend 15-20 words per sentence. Look at this beaut: “I envision myself in a training program that gives me the tools to fulfill my mission of helping people regain their functionality by providing excellence in operative training and supports my passion for design.” (34 words) Yikes! I think I know what it says, but can I trust the reader to make the correct inference? Chop Chop! Suggested rewrite: I want a program that trains me to help people regain their functionality and supports my passion for design. (19 words.)

Business Writing That Counts! knows a lot about clear writing. Call (425) 485-3221.


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