Simple and Clear

March 16, 2009


While they don’t compare to Savage Chickens, high tech product marketers are apt to use dense prose with a plethora of technical jargon directed at experts.   As a result, I’ve asked my team to pay special attention to being  “simple and clear” in their communication.  It’s easy for me to ask my team to simplify their writing but it’s harder to explain how.  As Blaise Pascal allegedly quipped, “I apologize in advance for the length of this letter but I didn’t have time to write a shorter one”. 

Since George Orwell and I share a birthday, I thought I’d borrow advice from his masterpiece ‘Politics and the English language’:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Orwell’s advice is more than 60 years old but still works today.  Still, Orwell didn’t have to deal with the scourge of communication: Microsoft PowerPoint.  If you’re in a company that uses ppt as its primary communication device, I strongly encourage you to read Seth Grodin’s Really Bad PowerPoint.

Use clear language and you’re more likely to get your point across.  It’s that simple.