Keep It Super Simple
One of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned—in writing and in life—is that less is more.
In my first poetry classes, anxious to sound literary, I stuffed my writing with odd metaphors, unusual words, and tangled sentences, as though my sole purpose was to confuse my reader. Then I was assigned a terrifying project: Cut out every third word of my poems.
At first I resented this assignment (didn’t my professor know how hard I’d worked on my drafts?), but I was ultimately shocked—and humbled—to see how such a drastic revision could improve my writing. Befriending the delete key allowed me to weed out superfluous words (or lines or even stanzas) from my poems to create more room for what was truly important.
I relearned this lesson four years later while training to receive my certificate in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). Whenever my TEFL trainer observed me teach, she’d write the letters KISS on my report. It wasn’t as cutesy as it sounds; KISS stood for Keep it super simple, a reminder to avoid asking my beginning English students convoluted questions such as “Would anyone in the room maybe be willing to read page 34?” Far better were simple, concise requests: “Maria, please read page 34.” Again, simplifying my words helped my meaning shine through.
Now, I am certainly not suggesting that you cut every third word out of your paper or study or write as though your reader is a beginning English student. I am arguing, though, that keeping your work as concise and super-simple as possible will allow your reader to focus more on understanding your ideas and less on deciphering your words. Here are a few specific tips to get you started:
1. Edit ruthlessly, and fear not the delete key. Always be on the lookout for places to cut out extra words or phrases.
Wordy: It has been stated by Jackson (2008), in his study, that most students at the high school level agree and concur that they are assigned to do more homework than they like.
Revised: Jackson (2008) stated that most high school students believe they receive too much homework.
2. Be wary of conjugations of the verb to be, which tend to weigh down sentences.
Wordy: There are many reasons that politicians have suggested to support universal health care.
Revised: Politicians have suggested many reasons to support universal health care.
Wordy: It was the accreditation report that convinced the managers to rethink company policies.
Revised: The accreditation report convinced the managers to rethink company policies.
3. Use simple words and sentence structures. Remember: Simple language is the clearest way to express complex ideas.
Wordy: The hospital is running into a panoply of quandaries due to envisaged removals from next year’s budget allocations.
Revised: The hospital faces many problems due to next year’s budget cuts.
Wordy: Beginning in 2007, employees expressed concerns about transparency in the company, to which the company responded by beginning to hold quarterly town hall meetings.
Revised: In response to employees’ concerns about transparency, the company began holding quarterly town hall meetings in 2007.
Give these tips and tricks a try, and remember: Keep it super simple!
Kayla Skarbakka, Writing Instructor & Coordinator of International Writing Instruction and Support, is inspired by Walden students' drive to pursue their educational and career goals. She earned her certificate in teaching English as a foreign language in Peru.