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Is simple writing the best writing?

December 20th, 2016 by Bob Bly

RS, an ad agency creative director, wrote the following in a
recent article on branding:

“Today, the emerging big brands among us are those that are
bringing the future to fruition — changing how we exist,
interact, and sustain our lives. They’re making social networks,
self-driving cars, hoverboards, and holograms.

“And most interesting of all, this new class of brand is led by a
visionary founder with a particular philosophy, not by a
corporate entity acting out a product roadmap against established
brand guidelines and architecture.

“People like Elon Musk, Evan Spiegel, and Mark Zuckerberg are
pursuing innovation across product and business lines that
sometimes don’t organize quite as neatly under a parent company
as the businesses of yesteryear had, and instead are branded in

Is this good writing?

I would bet that when RS read his draft, he was glowing with
pride at his highfalutin, breathless prose.

But in my forthcoming book on writing, I will use it as an
example of how NOT to write … and in my writing seminars my
students call this one, “What did he say?”

To me, it stinks, because RS violates an important rule of good

“Write to express — not to impress.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald mocked Hemingway for Ernie’s simple, basic
vocabulary and plain, unadorned style.

“He thinks I don’t know the ten dollar words,” Hemingway said of
Fitzgerald’s criticism. “I do. I just prefer the $1 words

When I first started teaching business and technical writing
seminars for corporate clients, I would occasionally have an
attendee who, when I said simple and plain writing is best,
argued with me.

They said they had been taught all their life to write in a
formal, corporate style — and the conversational style I was
teaching in the class was wrong and inappropriate for business.

I would show these naysayers the Flesch readability test; they
usually remained unpersuaded.

But when I got into direct response copywriting, I finally had
objective proof — not just subjective opinion — to support my
assertion that simple writing is the best writing … at least when
it comes to communication.

And the proof is this: almost without exception, virtually every
successful direct response promotion is written in clear,
concise, conversational copy.

It’s the style used by John Forde … Clayton Makepeace … Richard
Armstrong … Ivan Levison … Paul Hollingshead … Steve Slaunwhite …
and just about every top six- and seven-figure copywriter I know.

Why? Because it is plain English that virtually always gets the
best response — proving that when it comes to communicating,
simple writing is the best writing.

And it’s not just my personal opinion that clear writing trumps
ornate writing, and that plain language communicates more
effectively than big words.

It’s a tested fact.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 20th, 2016 at 11:24 am and is filed under Writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

14 responses about “Is simple writing the best writing?”

  1. Bhagawad Gita said:

    really interesting Bob!
    “Write to express — not to impress.”
    I truly work on this opinion only in most of my hindi books that i wrote.


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