Simple is Smart


In a recent The Atlantic article, staff writer Derek Thomson provides his for writing tips for aspiring writers. One his writing tips is Simple is smart.

High school taught me big words. College rewarded me for using big words. Then I graduated and realized that intelligent readers outside the classroom don’t want big words. They want complex ideas made simple. […] Smart people respect simple language not because simple words are easy, but because expressing interesting ideas in small words takes a lot of work.

– Derek Thompson in The Atlantic

Adam Galinsky, Columbia University psychologist, told Thompson:

“When people feel insecure about their social standing in a group, they are more likely to use jargon in an attempt to be admired and respected.”

Derek other three writing tips are be interesting, write music and find the right skin thickness.

On be interesting:

Interestingness = novelty + importance. Many stories are novel, but not important. Sometimes great efforts at writing and reporting don’t attract an audience because the story fails to answer the silent question inside every reader’s head. […] But in the same way that snapping a piece into a jigsaw puzzle makes the piece seem suddenly invisible, writing a familiar hot take that everybody else has already written is an excellent way to ensure your work dissolves into internet oblivion. Why write to be invisible? Stand out.

On write music:

Naming things is a gimmick, and I am not strictly pro-gimmick. But I am an extreme partisan for memorable writing. I want people to read my words, and recall them, and use them, and talk about them. People naturally remember musical language, and I would encourage writers to inject their prose with a bit of music. When you’re writing, think about repetition and variety.

On Find the right skin thickness:

All I can say is that writers of all ages should stay away from the extremes of hypersensitivity-to-feedback and obliviousness-to-feedback. Seek out wise criticism. Reserve time in your week for the regret that comes with getting things wrong. I promise the feeling will go away, and something else will appear in its place, which is learning. I write to learn. Maybe some people don’t, but I’m not sure what they’re doing with their lives.

I couldn’t agree more with Derek that writing simple stuff is incredibly hard work!