The art of simplicity

One of the most difficult skills to master in writing is simplicity. To brands, it’s also one of the most valuable. Those who share simple, compelling messages cut through the noise made by others. But how do you do it without losing personality? We take a look.

The art of simplicity

by Rob Self-Pierson

Everyone can write. But not everyone can write copy that engages, entertains, champions, challenges, ignites, motivates, moves, delights or just straight sells. 

That’s from the About page of our website. We don’t mean it to judge or to put down other writers, but instead to share our belief that writing is a craft, honed over years. The better you become, the simpler your expression. Until one day you write with such clarity of thought and simplicity of message that your writing achieves exactly what you intend.

Simplicity is crucial to great writing. But it’s possibly the most difficult skill for someone to master. 

As you discover the joy of writing, it’s tempting – and personally rewarding – to splash about in language. You experiment, you play, you get messy in tone and style, and words go everywhere. That’s definitely the way to find and push limits. But to go from being someone who can write to a great writer, you must learn to refine your craft and simplify your writing. It’s especially important to business and brand.

We repeat “Simplify” to every young writer we work with. It’s also the first thing we encourage clients to do when we begin a new project, starting with the brief. What’s the challenge? What are the obstacles? What material do we have, and what more do we need? Who’s our audience? What do we want them to think, feel or do after reading these words? We ask our client to think hard and respond simply. The simpler the language we use now, the more likely it is we’ll go on to engage, entertain, champion and so on.

In our new book, the A-Z of better brand language, we’ve done our best to demonstrate the art of simplicity – in the words we’ve written and advice we share. From A is for Audience to S is for Surprises, we celebrate the potential of brand language in simple ideas simply put. It’s taken over six months to plan, write and design. Because simplicity takes time to get right. 

Be aware of the art of simplicity when you write. Strip away complexity. Remove the fluff. Edit ruthlessly and later refine your writing until you’re left with the essence ie the most powerful and meaningful bit. Colourful turns of phrase and metaphors and sentence structures are certainly still welcome – as long as they add meaning or feeling to your writing. 

Next time you write, whether it’s for you or for someone else, ask yourself this before you start:

  • Am I sure I know what I want to say?
  • Do I have a clear idea of what I want my reader to think, feel or do in response?

Then, as you draft and redraft:

  • Is this the simplest way to say it?

Plan and write until you answer a confident ‘yes’ to each question. Then read your piece to somebody else, paying attention to their response. Could a final edit help you achieve exactly what you intend?

Always remember: you’re doing the hard work so your reader doesn’t have to. 

Next week, we’ll publish five letters from the A-Z of better brand language, with the book available later in November. C is for Can’t wait to share…

by Rob Self-Pierson