In this post from Writers Write, your top writing resource, we share a selection of authors’ quotes on writing in plain language.
13 October is International Plain Language Day!
The best writers have always known that the reason we write is to communicate, and the best way to do this is by writing in plain language.
If we write to impress, we often fail. We simply show our inexperience and ignorance as writers. Using an elaborate style, with big words and jargon, shows our insecurity with expressing ourselves. Our message is lost in the mess of words we’ve created.
If we use simple words to express complex ideas, people tend to respond to us.
Must-read: The Definitive Plain Language Writing Guide
I chose 30 quotes from famous writers in history to show that this wisdom is timeless.
30 Famous Quotes On Writing In Plain Language
- Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in a few words. ~Apocrypha
- Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style. ~Matthew Arnold
- To simplify complications is the first essential of success. ~George Earle Buckle
- When you wish to instruct, be brief. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind. ~Cicero
- Words in prose ought to express the intended meaning; if they attract attention to themselves, it is a fault; in the very best styles you read page after page without noticing the medium. ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. ~Leonardo da Vinci
- Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius-and a lot of courage-to move in the opposite direction. ~Albert Einstein
- The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words. ~George Eliot
- Whenever we can make 25 words do the work of 50, we halve the area in which looseness and disorganisation can flourish. ~Wilson Follett
- Anyone who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid. ~Henry Watson Fowler
- The finest words in the world are only vain sounds if you can’t understand them. ~Anatole France
- The most important lesson in the writing trade is that any manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat. ~Robert Heinlein
- The chief virtue that language can have is clearness, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar words. ~Hippocrates
- The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. ~Hans Hofmann
- The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do. ~Thomas Jefferson
- A man who uses a great many words to express his meaning is like a bad marksman who instead of aiming a single stone at an object takes up a handful and throws at it in hopes he may hit. ~Samuel Johnson
- Use familiar words—words that your readers will understand, and not words they will have to look up. No advice is more elementary, and no advice is more difficult to accept. When we feel an impulse to use a marvellously exotic word, let us lie down until the impulse goes away. ~James J. Kilpatrick
- Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity. ~Charles Mingus
- The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms. ~George Orwell
- The letter I have written today is longer than usual because I lacked the time to make it shorter. ~Blaise Pascal
- Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood. ~William Penn
- The shorter and the plainer the better. ~Beatrix Potter
- One should aim not at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand. ~Quintilian
- Men of few words are the best men. ~William Shakespeare
- A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. ~William Strunk and E.B. White
- The trouble with so many of us is that we underestimate the power of simplicity. ~Robert Stuberg
- As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out. ~Mark Twain
- Use the smallest word that does the job. ~E.B. White
- Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people. ~William Butler Yeats
- Writing improves in direct ratio to the things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there. ~William Zinsser
The Last Word
Our business writing workbooks will help you to write in plain language.
- If you want to improve your business writing, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook.
- Buy The Report Writing Workbook if you need help writing reports and proposals.
If you enjoyed this article, read these posts:
- How To Deflate Those Inflated Phrases
- 93 Extremely Bad Business Writing Habits to Break
- Plain Language Made Easy
- Plain Language Is An Opportunity
- The Definitive Plain Language Writing Guide (& 10 Sentences Decoded)
Top Tip: Find out more about our online courses and workbooks in our shop.