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June 20, 2007

KISS excess words goodbye

Keep It Simple (Stupid) - the KISS acronym - is a really useful mantra to hold onto when you're writing.  (Not that I'm suggesting my readers are stupid, of course, just that KISS will stick in your mind.)

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert and enthusiastic blog writer at the Dilbert Blog, has written a really clear (and simple) introduction to the principles of good business writing.  In The Day You Became A Better Writer he highlights the value of simplicity:

The main technique is keeping things simple. Simple writing is persuasive. A good argument in five sentences will sway more people than a brilliant argument in a hundred sentences. Don’t fight it.

He also suggests that you:

  • Write a powerful first sentence
  • Use plain English words
  • Keep your sentences short
  • Use the active not passive voice
  • Strip out excess words

The last one is key to keeping it simple.

"Simple means getting rid of extra words. Don’t write, “He was very happy” when you can write “He was happy.” You think the word “very” adds something. It doesn’t. Prune your sentences."

These principles don't just apply to business writing.  Scott Adams is using them in his blog - and in his humour writing.  The context for your writing doesn't matter.  What counts is the commitment to stripping out the excess words.  As long as is necessary - but not a word more.

Keep it simple.


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This reminds me of my journalism training.

When I was doing work experience on my local paper aged 15 I was taught the following:

The sign 'Fresh Fish Sold Here Today' is outside a fishmongers. I had to eliminate the unnecessary words. It took me a while until I realised it was a trick question. You have to eliminate all of them.

A case in point.

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