How to simplify your writing

Nick Harland
September 2022

Writing simply and concisely is harder than it sounds. Here are some tips on how to cut the fat from your writing and get to the heart of what you're saying.

1. Cut down on the adverbs (really)

This one’s a really good idea. Ahem. It’s fine to occasionally add a bit of emphasis to things with a good old adverb (really, absolutely, precisely), but don’t overdo it. If everything is really great or absolutely fantastic then your content becomes harder and harder to read. And ultimately, that means you’re distracting from the point of your piece.

It was an incredibly important piece of literature that really defined how we engage with historical fiction.
It was an important piece of literature that defined how we engage with historical fiction.

2. Use max one comma per sentence

Rather than just saying ‘use shorter sentences’, this is how you can actually do it.

If you use multiple commas and clauses in your sentences then they soon start to become very Charles Dickens-y. Your sentences are longer, your paragraphs are longer and your writing gets more complicated.

So when you’re writing, try not to use more than one comma in each sentence. Obviously you can ditch this rule if you’re writing a list, and it’s certainly not something you must ALWAYS stick to. Use it as a guide only.

This means we can offer a wider range of services to our clients, who not only exist within the financial sector, but also cover consulting.
This means we can offer a wider range of services to our clients, who are mainly in the financial and consulting sectors.

3. Don't be afraid to start sentences with a transition word

Now you’ve shortened your sentences, you might be finding that a lot of them are missing a transition word (and, but, because, whilst, since). And you might also be worried about starting those new sentences with one of those transition words. After all, isn’t that what they told you not to do at school?

The truth is that the idea you can’t start a sentence with and or because is very outdated. If anything, it’s a good way of adding emphasis to that particular sentence. Take this example.

Copywriting is very important for businesses because it helps you win more business and earn more money. That’s why it’s so highly sought-after.

Copywriting is very important for businesses because it helps you win more business and earn more money. And that’s why it’s so highly sought-after.

Not only does this and add emphasis to the sentence - which is the most important part of the paragraph - it also connects it with the previous two utterances. Having that kind of coherence within your writing ultimately simplifies it and makes it easier to read. So don’t be scared to use transition words at the front of the sentence, despite what Ms. Harrison said to you in Year 6.

4. Shorten paragraphs-but keep paragraph breaks logical

We’re not saying you need to exclusively deal in one-sentence paragraphs, like the educated folks over on LinkedIn seem to thrive in. But shortening your paragraphs to maybe three or four lines makes your content easier to digest. Which, in turn, makes it much simpler.

Our top tip for shortening your paragraphs is to make sure each paragraph makes sense on its own. Don’t jump from topic-to-topic within the same paragraph, but don’t break up a point you were trying to make by starting a new paragraph. Paragraph breaks still need to be logical.

5. Don’t bury the key information

We apologise in advance for calling out this recipe for a lovely lentil dhal. It was actually really nice. But it takes a incredible amount of time to reach what you would think is the most important part of the article: the recipe. 

Do you know how many words this writer goes through before giving you a list of ingredients and the recipe? We counted over 1,500 words. Yes; 1,500 words. In order to reach the ingredients and method part of this recipe, you have to scroll through the following sections:

  • An introduction
  • Some reviews
  • Another introduction
  • Why you’ll love this recipe
  • What is daal?
  • Expert tips
  • Serving suggestions
  • Freezing and storage tips
  • Special diets
  • Red lentils (?)
  • Curry recipes
  • Step-by-step tutorial (this still isn’t the actual method)
  • FAQs

Yes dear readers, you counted correctly. There are a total of 13 sections to scroll through before you actually get to the fucking recipe. We’ve gotta hand it to them. We don’t even know how you can think of that many different things to write about on a recipe page. Though we did find this recipe through Google, so they must be doing something right…I guess?

Well yeah, but in general this is a terrible piece of writing for the web. We would bet good money that the vast majority of readers to this page just want to see a list of ingredients and a step-by-step guide. So give them that information front and centre. It should pretty much be the first thing people see on the page. 

Then, if you really want, you can include your expert tips and serving suggestions and history of the daal and anything else you’re desperately trying to shoehorn in to up the word count. But don’t go overboard. Give people what they want, as quickly as possible. Else they’ll just click away and never read your lovely daal recipe. 

Or our lovely tips to simplify your writing. Thanks for sticking with us!

Nick Harland