Why I Like to KISS When I Write
Occam’s famous razor tells us that the simplest explanation is usually the best. I’d add a little razor of my own to Mr. Occam’s philosophy: more often than not, the shortest way to say something is also the best. As I mentioned when I recently posted some of my thoughts on conversational writing, I believe you’ll engage people more fully with your script, proposal, internal corporate video … whatever … if it’s written like you’re just talking with them. That’s because one-on-one conversation is the most powerful way to communicate, and most people don’t tend to converse in long, complicated phrases.
If I’m agonizing over just the right word or phrase, as all writers sometimes do, remembering to KISS (“Keep It Short & Simple,” a politer version of “Keep It Simple, Stupid”) will save the day. Many people who’ve worked with me over the years have heard my mantra: “short declarative sentences.” I think that, too often, writers feel that big, complicated words and phrases convey depth, when what they really do is cause readers, viewers, or listeners to tune out because they just don’t resonate as conversational. Of course, I’m not talking about scientific papers, legal briefs, legislation, and so on, which usually DO need to convey depth. As always, I’m thinking about writing meant to tell a story or communicate a message to “everyday” people.
Whatever you’re writing or producing is going to have a lot of competition for attention. You have a limited window to engage someone so you can keep them until your story is told and your message gets across. KISS is the way to go, and I believe that no less a deeply complex thinker than Stephen Hawking agrees with me. I learned more in the 248 pages of “A Brief History of Time” than I got out of all of my high school and college science classes combined. Even in discussing something as insanely complex as the grand unifying theory of physics, Hawking clearly believes we should communicate in as simple and concise terms as possible so that everyone can be engaged in the conversation:
“… if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God.”
That’s some pretty heady stuff, communicated in some easily digestible language. And, importantly, as you can see “simple” doesn’t mean “dumbed down.” It means clear and concise
So, take a tip from the Steves, and when you sit down to create whatever it is you’re creating, to tell whatever story you want to tell, to communicate whatever very important message you want to communicate—just KISS.
As always, I’d love to hear your feedback … especially if you can make it short!