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8 Techniques for Mastering Simple Writing

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read

If you want to be a better writer, less is more. Good writing often follows a minimalist approach, using concise language, short sentences, and carefully chosen words to appeal to a wide reading audience. For nearly any subject matter or writing style, simplicity is a strength.



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Simple Writing vs. Lazy Writing

Writing simply involves more than just using fewer words to get a point across. It requires careful consideration of every word and every sentence in a piece of writing. This attention to detail creates a story with high readability that appeals to a wider audience. Simple writing is different than lazy writing. A lazy writer assembles words in a haphazard way, often using too many or too few words without giving the writing process a second thought. Lazy writing habits result in typos and sloppy sentence structure—in short, bad writing. The difference between simple writing and lazy writing is the amount of effort that goes into each. Writing to create clear, direct, readable copy takes more hard work but is worth the final result.

8 Tips for How to Write Simply

Both Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain, authors of some of the best stories in American literature, were advocates of simple writing. Whether you’re a blogger or short story writer—or are plugging away on your first novel hoping to become a published author—succinct writing is more inviting for readers. If you want to write better, follow these eight tips for writing simply.

  1. Organize your thoughts. Outline your ideas before you begin to write. This will serve as a roadmap to help you stay focused and streamline your writing. Without an outline, it’s easy to get off track and include last-minute, tangential thoughts.
  2. Choose your words carefully. Your writing should allow readers to ingest your story at a smooth pace. Make deliberate word choices, taking care to select words that get your point across in a direct way. Use a thesaurus if you’re looking for a different option. It’s okay to use more sophisticated language throughout your text, but as a general rule, use simple words instead of big words. If you’re blogging, word choice determines how many readers visit your page. Using SEO (search engine optimization) strategies, writers choose specific keywords to help their website to get a high ranking in Google searches.
  3. Customize your writing to your target audience. Children’s book authors use much simpler language than a New York Times journalist. But even a periodical or book aimed at adults should use simple, concise writing. In fact, to be understood by most readers, authors should write at an eighth-grade reading level. At this grade level, language is advanced yet understandable enough for a general audience.
  4. Avoid using unnecessary words. As Mark Twain said, “Don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.” When you write, be conscious of the words you’re choosing along the way. Avoid using unnecessary words, particularly adjectives and adverbs that are no more than hollow descriptors. Use them when they really add to a thought; otherwise, your main point gets lost, buried beneath a sea of words that don’t further your message.
  5. Write short sentences. Sentences are the building blocks of writing. Good writers know how to construct a simple sentence that is easy to read. When you have long sentences, break up the thoughts and create one or two shorter sentences for the reader to easily digest. One exception to this rule is when you write dialogue. For example, if your story is written in first person and your main character is a high school student, they might speak in a more casual tone with long, rambling sentences.
  6. Use the active voice. Use your writing skills to craft sentences that follow the noun-verb-object pattern. This active voice is easier and more engaging for readers. Writing in the passive voice, when the verb precedes the noun, is an indirect, lengthier way of communicating a point. You risk losing readers if your story is too heavy on passive voice.
  7. Take a cue from copywriting. A copywriter’s job is to convey a message, market a product, and get readers to buy what they’re selling in as few words as possible. Every word must be powerful and contribute to the bigger purpose of the copy. Use this approach when you write. Even if you’re working on a fictional story, every word must make an impact.
  8. Edit your work for simplicity. While you should get in the habit of making conscious language choices as you write, every article or manuscript will need to be edited. When you finish your first draft and start editing, look for unnecessary words, sentences that can be trimmed or rewritten in the active voice, and any places to tighten up your manuscript.
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