June 25

A simple trick when you’re writing about concepts that are super complicated

    The human mind is amazing. We’re able to grasp extremely complicated concepts that we have never physically experienced, like black holes in the cosmos and micro bacteria in our small intestines. Even if we’ve never touched a black hole or seen a micro bacterium, we have a sense of what it looks like and what it does. But it can be quite difficult to when you're writing about concepts that are super complicated. When we try to put words to these concepts, we find our words small and insufficient. We get frustrated and briefly contemplate throwing the computer out the window.

    Before you attempt destruction of property, try this easy trick when you're writing about concepts that are super complicated.

    Write in simple sentences: subject—verb—object.

    Even if you’re attempting to explain a subject that’s suitable for a doctorate dissertation, I would encourage you to revert to the simplest sentences you can write.

    Writing about black holes? (Ever since watching that recent movie about Stephen Hawking, I have a weird fascination with black holes.) Try simple the subject—verb—object sentence structure.

    Black holes have a strong gravitational pull. Particles that pass the “event boundary” will be pulled into the black hole. No particle can escape a black hole’s pull.

    Yes, those sentences are super simple. Not everyone one of them uses the subject—object—verb structure, but they’re much simpler constructs than I would normally write, and that’s the point. Simple sentences are powerful tools for helping you clarify exactly what you’re trying to say.

    The longer the sentence is, the more concepts you introduce, and the more vague you can be about how those concepts relate. When the sentences are short and simple, though, you can to be explicit about how to concepts (the subject and the object) relate (through the verb).

    Write out what you’re trying to explain in the most basic, simple sentences you can. The exercise will help you to be more clear with what, exactly, is most important for you to communicate.

    You’ll start to trim out ideas that aren’t really relevant, and you’ll crystalize the ideas that are the most relevant.

    Then, go back and combine those sentences, making sure that your meaning stays in tact along the way.

    After you’ve combined the sentences, read them out loud to ensure that it sounds like something you would say. Reading aloud is key to helping your true voice ring through in your text.

    As Einstein is rumored to have once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”*

    My view of writing is similar. Writing should be as simple as possible, but not simpler. There are an infinite number of ways to combine words to make sentences. You don’t have to make long, winding, complicated sentences in order to add variety or decoration or interest.

    Your words are interesting.

    Your ideas are interesting.

    You are interesting.

    You don’t need to hide behind incomprehensible sentences, not when simple sentences will let the reader most clearly connect with your words, your ideas, and (ultimately) you.

    If you find yourself typing out long, convoluted sentences in order to explain something complicated, revert to simple sentences, and you may be surprised at how easy it all suddenly becomes.

    Easy-flowing, simple writing is beautiful writing, my friend.

    *The quote may have originated from Roger Sessions, who was possibly paraphrasing Einstein. In case you’re curious: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/05/13/einstein-simple/


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