"Simplify, simplify."

- Henry David Thoreau

Writing is hard work. Especially concise writing. It takes a lot of thought to write clearly and simply.

Instructional writing has as its aim to educate and make meaning plain. Such writing is stripped of unnecessary words so that it can speak with powerful clarity.

Complicated language has its place. If you are trying to deceive, confuse, impress or lie, high-flown phrases will serve that purpose. As William Zinssner, the dean of plain writing, said in On Writing Well,

"Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important. The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating considerable precipitation wouldn't think of saying it may rain."

But instructional writing has as its aim to educate readers and make meaning plain. Such writing is stripped of unnecessary words so that it can speak with powerful clarity. Zinssner goes on to say,

"Öthe secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that's already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what - these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to age and rank."

  Check List

  • Use simple words. Use the simplest word you can without sacrificing clarity.
  • Use short sentences. Limit the amount of information you put in each sentence.
  • Avoid long introductory clauses. Move the subject and verb near the beginning of a sentence so that readers do not have to fish for them.
  • Keep paragraphs short and to the point. Short paragraphs are easier to read, especially if they stay on topic.
  • Eliminate adjectives. Extra adjectives clutter prose. Pick descriptive nouns instead.
  • Eliminate adverbs. Extra adverbs weaken verbs. Pick action verbs instead.
  • Donít hedge. Hedging with qualifiers like sort of, kind of, really, rather, about, and in a sense dilutes your authority.
  • Donít inflate. Inflating your text with qualifiers like really, very, quite, too, extremely, a bit, a lot diminishes your credibility.
  • Eliminate asides. Off-topic remarks interrupt the flow of ideas.
  • Avoid empty phrases that water down your prose like, "for example" or "do the following."
  • Get rid of nonsensical words such as, "predefined," "irregardless," and "floundering."