Author Ernest Hemingway once bet his friends he could write a complete story in 6 words:
Simple writing is perceived as truthful and intelligent. This chapter has tips for instant improvement.
When you write, pretend you are talking to someone bored and you are trying to keep them interested sentence by sentence.
What is your point?
Get to it quickly
If you want something, ask clearly
The goal of the first sentence is getting people to read the second sentence
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
One thought per sentence e.g., “I was hungry. I ate a steak.” instead of “I was hungry and I ate a steak.”
Simple words e.g., “help” instead of “facilitate”
No extra words e.g., “she is happy” instead of “she is very happy”
Active voice e.g., “the boy caught the ball” instead of “the ball was caught by the boy”
Write how the brain thinks e.g., “if you want it, get it” instead of “get it if you want it”
Guide the reader e.g., “first, second, finally”; “for example”; “in contrast”; “therefore”; “in summary”
Rhyming and alliteration are memorable e.g., “master life faster”
Metaphors aid understanding
There are two doors. Behind Door Number One is a completely sealed room, with a regular, gasoline-fueled car. Behind Door Number Two is an identical, completely sealed room, with an electric car. Both engines are running full blast. I want you to pick a door to open, and enter the room and shut the door behind you. You have to stay in the room you choose for 1 hour. You cannot turn off the engine. You do not get a gas mask.
If you want to change the world, change the metaphor.
Finally, read your writing aloud. Imagine reading it for the first time.
For more examples and exercises, read On Writing Well by William Zinsser.
A simple style is the result of hard work and hard thinking; a muddled style reflects a muddled thinker or a person too arrogant, or too dumb, or too lazy to organize his thoughts.
O’Toole G. (2013, January 28). For sale, baby shoes, never worn. Quote Investigator. https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/01/28/baby-shoes/
Adams S. (2007, June 16). The day you became a better writer. Dilbert Blog. https://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2007/06/the_day_you_bec.html
Okuhara T et al. (2017). Designing persuasive health materials using processing fluency: a literature review. BMC Res Notes. 10(1): 198.
A review of 40 studies found that simple, easy-to-understand writing was rated more pleasing, trustworthy, honest, sincere, safer, and persuasive
Oppenheimer DM. (2006). Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly. Applied Cognitive Psychology. 20(2): 139–156.
McGlone MS, Tofighbakhsh J. (2000). Birds of a feather flock conjointly (?): rhyme as reason in aphorisms. Psychol Sci. 11(5): 424–428.
Boers F, Lindstromberg S. (2005). Finding ways to make phrase-learning feasible: The mnemonic effect of alliteration. System. 33: 225–238.
A study with 200 participants found that recall rates were 42% for alliterative phrases vs. 34% for non-alliterative phrases
A second study with 200 participants found that recall rates were 77% for alliterating idioms vs. 67% for other idioms
Thibodeau PH, Boroditsky L. (2011). Metaphors we think with: The role of metaphor in reasoning. PLoS One. 6(2): e16782.
5 experiments with 1,519 participants found that a single metaphor could induce differences in opinion about how to solve social problems i.e., “crime is a beast” vs. “crime is a virus”
Differences were larger than pre-existing differences in opinion between Democrats and Republicans
Sopory P, Dillard JP. (2002). The persuasive effects of metaphor: A meta‐analysis. Human Communication Research. 28(3): 382–419.
A meta-analysis of 29 studies found that metaphors enhanced persuasion when they were single, novel, had a familiar target, and were used early in a message (effect size = 0.42)
Sorrel C. (2015, December 9). Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t give a **** what you think about climate change. Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/3054362/arnold-schwarzenegger-doesnt-give-a-what-you-think-about-climate-change
Kruger J et al. (2005). Egocentrism over e-mail: can we communicate as well as we think? J Pers Soc Psychol. 89(6): 925–936.
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