lostfortranslationEmployee or startup founder, clear writing is key for future success. Unfortunately, we often write in a style that is difficult to understand. Along the way we evolved (or regressed) away from the simplicity and elegance of clear concise writing. First of all, we often write with too many complex words that don’t add any meaning to our message. On the other hand, we use a cryptic net lingo of txt shorthand for our mobile messages. Consequently, many readers find themselves lost for translation.

In the world technology, clear concise writing is critical for any level of success. Whether it is pitching an idea to an investor or writing a feature spec, clarity and understanding never go out of style.

The book “The technique of clear writing” by Robert Gunning was originally published in 1952. It has been revered by writers and publishers around the world for over 60 years as a must have reference. I became aware of the books principles early in my career and continue to use them today.

The 10 principles of clear writing

  1. Keep sentences short: Vary the length of sentences but remember the longer the sentence the more complex.  On average keep sentences short
  2. Prefer the simple to the complex: If there is a shorter simpler way of saying something, use it.  Complex terms don’t add to the meaning of what you are saying
  3. Prefer the familiar word: Having a well-developed vocabulary is important and valuable.  Choose words that are familiar to the reader and that are easiest to understand
  4. Avoid unnecessary words: Make every word count.  Extra words don’t improve the quality of the writing.
  5. Put action in your verbs: Write in the active voice.  Put action into your verbs
  6. Write the way you talk:  Use a conversational tone whenever possible and appropriate
  7. Use terms your readers can picture: Use short vivid words that your reader can visualize.
  8. Tie in with your reader’s experience: Connect your idea with something or some experience that the reader already has.
  9. Make full use of variety: Keep the message clear, but mix up and use as wide variety of sentence arrangements and words as you can.
  10. Write to express, not to impress. Big words do not convey superior intelligence.   The best writer is the one who can express a complex idea simply.

I’ve practiced and applied these principles over many years. Consequently, I have found a much more consistent response to my writing.  Finally, if you learn and apply these principles, your readers will better understand your writing and be more likely to embrace your ideas.

1 thought on “The Lost Art of Clear Writing”

Matt Stewart Matt Stewart says:

Great blog James! Concise, clear, and to the point is important for not just writing, but also verbal communication. Get your ideas out to people, investors, and customers before they get lost in the words and lose interest!


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