Keep it simple – stupid!

Some years ago a friend of mine gave me a book by Jack Trout called ‘The Power of Simplicity’. I finally decided to read it and I find it fascinating. The idea is as simple as its title – we have all heard the phrase ‘keep it simple – stupid!’ Just follow that simple guideline.

What I like about the book is that you can recognize real life. Keep your writing simple, use words people recognize, put action into what you say. I learned these basic principles when I was taught writing for business when I was doing my management training at a then major New York bank called Bankers Trust (they must be glad they no longer exist as an independent name – how embarassing would that be in the current environment?).

Now I wish our fearless leaders in government would buy this book. In fact, if I had the money, I would send them all a copy. For example, I was shown the policy of our local county council on what to do when an employee is ill. Now this policy should be understood by both the employer and the employee, but it is impossible to comprehend other than by the expert (please read the blog by Renee Mackay this week on HR policies).

The policy is some 20 pages long and is completely confusing. The basic message should be simple: find out what is ailing the employee and help him or her get better. But no! It becomes challenging and offensive and no doubt leads to bad employee relations and regular legal cases (well done lawyers!).

The same applies to presentations. Americans tend to have the best ones, followed by the Brits. Get the French up there and turn on your iPod! Why do American’s succeed? They are clear, they do not try to make too many points, they do not over complicate and they keep it interesting. Another lesson to be learned by our fearless leaders. It is as if they have a need to make things complicated so they appear impressive.

So let me share 10 principles of clear writing from Jack Trout’s book:
1. Keep sentences short
2. Pick the simple word over the complex one
3. Choose the familiar word
4. Avoid unnecessary words
5. Put action into your verbs
6. Write like you talk (ed: I have tried to add a Dutch accent but have failed to date)
7. Use terms your readers can picture
8. Tie in with your reader’s experience
9. Make full use of variety
10. Write to express, not to impress.

That last point is the key dear fearless leaders, so try to keep things simple – stupid!

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