What? I Can Write! Keep It Simple

“A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.”—Samuel Johnson

Keep It Simple

Aristotle said that simplicity “makes the uneducated more effective than the educated when addressing popular audiences.” While the great philosopher probably had public speaking in mind when he made this statement, the same holds true for writers. Simplicity is the key to effective communication. Don’t misunderstand me; simplicity does not mean being simple-minded or ignorant. And there is no particular virtue in being uneducated, especially for a writer. By simplicity, or saying that writers must “keep it simple,” I mean developing the art of saying what we want to say in as simple and straightforward a manner as possible so that anyone can understand us even if they possess no prior knowledge of what we are talking about.

Keeping it simple does not mean avoiding complex or difficult topics; neither does it mean “dumbing down” the subject matter. Keeping it simple means relating to our readers by utilizing words and images that draw on their common everyday knowledge and experiences; in other words, communicating on their level or from their frame of reference.

C. S. Lewis was a master at this. Both in his writings as well as in his enormously popular lectures at Oxford and Cambridge, Lewis displayed great skill in communicating deep or complex subjects in terms that even the most unschooled laypeople could understand.

Probably the greatest communicator in this vein was Jesus of Nazareth. Through the simple medium of stories, Jesus used familiar images and objects from his listeners’ everyday lives—agriculture, business, horticulture, husbandry—to reveal profound spiritual and moral truths. Jesus was a master storyteller, and as writers, that is what we are too, at heart—storytellers. Keeping it simple means using simple language, but it also means connecting with our readers, using familiar images from their world to draw them into ours.

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