I love my college students, but it is laborious to read some of their papers – long rambling incomplete sentences (if you can call them sentences), weird paragraphing, non-existent organization of the material into an argument, and multi-syllable words used in ways that only a contortionist could appreciate. The best writing advice I can give to them is that was shared by Mark Twain in a letter to a young friend, “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words, and brief sentences. That is the way to write English. It is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it.”
Does that advice seem overly simplistic? Well, consider the following reconstructed adages borrowed from The Power Of Simplicity: A Management Guide to Cutting Through the Nonsense and Doing Things Right .
- Pulchritude possesses profundity of a merely cutaneous nature. (Beauty is only skin deep.)
- It is not efficacious to indoctrinate a superannuated canine with innovative maneuvers. (You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.)
- Visible vapors that issue from carbonaceous materials are a harbinger of imminent conflagration. (Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.)
- A revolving mass of lithic conglomerates does not accumulate a congery of small green bryophitic plants. (A rolling stone gathers no moss.)
I appreciate my students trying to impress me with their vocabulary. And, there is room for more picturesque language in writing. However, simple is usually better.
Trout goes on to offer the following advice,
- Keep sentences short.
- Pick the simple word over the complex word.
- Choose the familiar word.
- Avoid unnecessary words.
- Put action in your verbs.
- Write like you talk.
- Use terms your readers can picture.
- Tie in with your reader’s experience.
- Make full use of variety.
- Write to express, no impress.
What suggestions would you add to his list?