I Really Just Write So Well

How to write simply, clearly, and powerfully.


Leonardo Salvatore

3 years ago | 3 min read

Photo by Patrick Tomasso from Unsplash.
Photo by Patrick Tomasso from Unsplash.

Or so I thought...

For long I thought that writing 15 pages made me look smart.

“You will write a 12–15-page paper, bibliography excluded,” they say.

The more the better, the better the smarter, right?

For long I thought that using big words and 7 synonyms per paragraph made me sound smart.

“You’ll need a 1200–1500 reflection on topic X. Don’t use bullet points,” they say.

“I have 800 words and it’s due in 2 hours. Let me fill the page with a bunch of long synonyms,” I’ve said.

For long I thought that writing is about showing off—impressing the reader.

“People will think you’re intelligent,” I’ve been told.

For long I’ve been wrong.

I realized that

  • most people stay away from convoluted texts
  • convoluted sentences kill meaning
  • convoluted sentences are easily misunderstood → poor communication
  • poor communication can lead to needless confrontation

Farewell page counts, useless synonyms, and long words.

Enter simplicity, clarity, and directness.

Let me give you an example.

1. “The revision to get correct addresses is important for the committee in the assessment of duplication of mailings.”

2. “Correct addresses are necessary to prevent duplicate mailings.”

1. “Each and every graduate student will be required to give an accounting of the amount of time spent on the writing and the revision of all academic papers that have been selected to be published.”

2. “All graduate students need to track the time spent on writing and revising papers selected for publication.”

Do you prefer 1 or 2?

If you’d asked me a week ago, I would have said 1. But I’ve changed my mind.

Sure, there’s value in “formal” and “academic” writing. Explaining complex ideas may require complex syntactic structures, lots of qualifiers, and redundancy.

In some cases drawn out writing like 2 is appropriate:

  • Writing a report for a client who insists that “more words = more importance”
  • Making your web page look fuller
  • School assignments (maybe…let’s talk about that)

Literature is another example where a writer may choose long-winded sentences for stylistic purposes. Take streams of consciousness. They are hardly intelligible at first but often strike the reader because of their intricacy and ambiguity.

The power of literature to take the reader on a mind boggling journey comes from stylistic choices that would otherwise be ruled out.

Edit Jane Austen’s books as if you were editing a newspaper article and you’ll smother their essence.

Writing is an art. And like painting or sculpture, it has many genres. Match your style to your genre, whatever it may be.

This being said, most people use writing to strike and convince. And when it comes to powerful articles or business writing, simplicity, clarity, and directness are the three tenets.

How to write simply, clearly, and directly?

Ruthless editing is the answer.

As writing instructor Tom Geller said, “Michelangelo turned a block of marble into David by removing the bits that didn’t look like David.”

Removing bits of phrases that don’t add value to your text is key to crafting a powerful message.

So go ahead and write your heart out. Let it rest for some time. Then come back and edit ruthlessly.

Here are some useful editing tips I’ve started to apply more frequently:

  • Change passive voices, unless necessary or stylistic choice
  • Delete empathics (really, truly, very, extremely, especially, etc.)
  • Remove redundancies (brand new, advance planning, connect together, etc.)
  • Delete vague words (“when in doubt, throw it out”)
  • Cut prepositions, unless necessary
  • Read sentences out loud; if they make no sense or you have to catch more than two breaths to get to the period, shorten them
  • Organize paragraphs by ideas
  • Outline the heck out of your ideas

(I struggle with the last one because sometimes I feel like outlining, sometimes I don’t. I know at least 5 people who write beautifully without outlines. But give it a try. Have a clear structure in mind before you write anything down. It will be easier to start and quicker to finish, and you can always change it as you develop your ideas.)

It’s not about editing every sentence, every time. Unless you’re a professional editor or editing your book, you probably can’t spend 2 minutes on every line you ever write.

It’s more about realizing that the most powerful messages are accessible, digestible, and striking—not unintelligible, mind-twisting, and vague—and to keep that in mind as you grow as a writer and communicator.

It’s about refuting (when appropriate) the myth that “more words = better message.”

It’s about conveying messages simply, clearly, and powerfully.

~ Find me on LinkedIn. ~


Created by

Leonardo Salvatore







Related Articles