Keep it simple

Cut the clutter and write better

Keep it simple

In his classic essay, “Circles”, Ralph Waldo Emerson makes a seemingly simple yet profound observation: “Around every circle a bigger circle can be drawn.”

Would you like to push the boundaries of your writing skills? To make it happen, you have to adopt good writing practices and avoid common grammatical pitfalls:

Keep it short

Try to grasp the following 45-word sentence:

At the heart of our professionally run business lies a proud heritage of industry, integrity and enterprise, focused on creating lasting value for our clients, improving quality and safety standards on every project, and maximising opportunities for our employees to help them achieve their career potential.

Reading a long sentence stuffed with too many ideas is like drinking soup with a ladle instead of a spoon. Long sentences may look impressive but they tax readers’ memories and leave them confused. Break long sentences into two shorter ones or more, and boost the clarity of your writing.

Be specific

There is a world of difference between the following two claims:

A: The company has been growing rapidly over the last few years.

B: The company has been growing at a 10 per cent rate over the last five years.

Sentence A is vague in contrast to B, which gives the reader two pieces of information.

Explains legendary copywriter Claude C. Hopkins: “Platitudes and generalities roll off the human understanding like water from a duck. No generality has any weight whatever. It is like saying, ‘how do you do?’ when you have no intention of inquiring about one’s health. Specific facts have full weight and effect.”

Get to the point

Another quick way to improve the quality of your writing is to get rid of clutter — needless words and phrases. Phrases like the ones below routinely feature in everyday business writing, but don’t serve any purpose other than to waste the reader’s time. Prune them ruthlessly and get to the point.

For example, if your main message is that “the clinic will be closed on July 20 due to upgrading works”, there is no need to preface the sentence with any of the following:

* We wish to inform you that

* Please be informed…

* It should be noted that …

Simply say: “The clinic will be closed on July 20 due to upgrading works.”

Says American writer and literary critic William Zinsser: “Writing improves in the direct ratio of the number of things we keep out of it.” 

Avoid grammatical pitfalls

Its vs it’s: As they sound the same, “it’s” and “its” often get mixed up even though both have distinct roles to play. Try to spot the problem in the following sentence:

Its a beautiful vase. What is it’s cost?

Remember, “it’s” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has” whereas “its” is a possessive form of “it”. To get things right, “its” and “it’s” should change places in the sentence above.

Who vs whom: These two words often compete with each other aggressively for the same place in a sentence, leaving many people confused about which one to choose. Would you choose “who” or “whom” in the following sentences?

A: [Who/Whom] is the most hardworking employee?

B: [Who/Whom] do you consider the most hardworking employee?

Use “who” when you are referring to the subject (doer of an action) of a sentence and “whom” when you are referring to the object (receiver of action) of a sentence.

Applying this rule, sentence A should use “who”, whereas sentence B should keep “whom”. Learn more about this and other common errors at

Comma splices: The disease of comma splices — joining two or more sentences with a comma — mostly infects e-mails. Here is an example:

“You have to use Internet 7 and above {Sentence 1}, our system does not support Firefox {Sentence 2}.”

Joining independent sentences with a comma is not grammatical. Keep the sentences separate with a full stop.

Improving writing skills is an endless journey; no one arrives— not even a famous novelist like Stephen King. When he was asked how he measured his success, he replied: “I just wish I had some more talent and could write a little better”.

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