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The KISS Principle – My Way

Many of us know the KISS acronym, which is too often used with these words: Keep It Simple, Stupid. You’ve heard it or seen it, right?

Faithful readers of my blogs know how much I dislike hurtful language, and “stupid” is in that league. It’s impossible to un-ring a bell. Once you’ve called someone stupid, even in jest, you can’t unsay it. Those who have been called that can’t unhear it. Nothing good comes of it, not even if we “apologize” and say we were only kidding.

Yeah. No. It still has the power to hurt.

When I lead any kind of communication skills workshop, I often refer to the KISS principle – my version of it, anyway. Many business professionals – letter writers, memo writers, bloggers – write too many words, and they use too many BIG words, perhaps thinking they’ll look smart.

Sad to say, those approaches don’t work well for most readers. No one wants to wade through our version of War and Peace, or feel dumb because they’re not sure what a word means; there are too many other articles to read and things to do, right?

So here are just three ideas to help you write more polished and professional business documents, all according to my version of the KISS Principle.

  1. Think about your reader(s)

If you’re writing something to just one person, take a moment and think:

  1. What does that person even know about the topic?
  2. What sort of tone would be right?
  3. Does the document need to be more or less formal?
  4. What do you want the reader to do after reading your document? Have you been clear about that?

If you’re writing to a group, think of what the members have in common that can help you craft your message.

  1. If they’re all CPAs or engineers, for example, they’re very likely detail-oriented (we sure hope so!), so you would want to double-check all your facts (maybe triple-check them).
    b.  If they’re all nurses or other caregivers, they’re likely used to dealing with emotions, so you wouldn’t want to come across as cold and uncaring.
  2. If they’re all well versed in your topic, you can definitely use the language you all
    understand, even if the rest of us would have no clue.

2. Trim your sentences!

There should be an average of 17 words per sentence for regular material, and no – this doesn’t mean every sentence should be that. It’s just an average.

However, if you’re writing something highly technical, especially for non-technical readers, drop the number down to about 12; your readers will be glad you did.

You can check this in Word if you have the grammar check enabled, which I think we all do. You’re looking for an eighth-grade reading level, more or less, for most ordinary writing. For more information on this, check out this Flesch-Kincaid link.

3. Use regular words that are in everyday use.

You can obviously look up words in a dictionary or thesaurus, but why would you? And why would you want your readers to have to?

Your goal in business writing — and probably in most writing — should be clarity. Big words usually just get in the way of great communication. I am not saying “dumb it down,” but I am saying write as you might speak. If you wouldn’t ever use “utilize” when speaking, you don’t need to use it in writing.

All in all, I love writing, although it does have its limitations. Even with formatting (bold / underline / color /fonts / emojis 🙂), we can’t always tell what the writer means by just the words that are used. That’s why I much prefer face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice communication when it’s possible, but if we must write, let’s use my KISS Principle as often as we can.

Keep IShort (and) Simple.

Susan Rookshttps://grammargoddess.com/
With 25 years’ experience as an international speaker and workshop leader, Susan Rooks is uniquely positioned to help people master the communication skills they need to succeed. In 1995, Susan formed Grammar Goddess Communication to help business professionals enhance their communication skills. She creates and leads three-hour “Brush Up on Your Skills” workshops in three main areas: American grammar, business writing, and interpersonal skills. And recently she created and began leading introductory workshops to help business pros maximize their LinkedIn experience, offering it to Chambers of Commerce free of charge. As a copyeditor (and editor of nonfiction only), Susan has worked on projects ranging from blogs to award-winning children’s books to best-selling business books to corporate annual reports (with clients from half a dozen countries), ensuring that all material is professionally presented and free from grammatical errors. From the beginning, Susan’s only goal was to help everyone look and sound as smart as they are.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Great article, Susan. Solid info.

    Can I add a 4th idea? Limit links and hashtags, especially hashtags that are just made up words for emphasis. Sometimes including links is unavoidable because you might have to reference critical websites or articles, but let’s be judicious! For me, too many links psychologically complicates the read, as in “I have to go here, here and here to understand all of this?”

    Finally, it’s too bad about “stupid.” I think if more people knew the context in which the Clinton presidential campaign used it back in 1992 – It’s the economy, stupid,” they might not be so offended. Clinton’s strategist, James Carville, coined it and didn’t literally mean it as “you’re stupid.” After all, he was speaking to Clinton’s campaign workers. He meant it as a euphemism for “focus,” as in “Whatever you say, keep the message focused on the economy.”

    Here’s a link (Ha!) if, and only if, you want to know more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_the_economy,_stupid

    Hey, I couldn’t help myself!

  2. Always excellent, Susan. I like the 17-word sentence tip. I think mine are frequently too long. Also, when I use a word that may not be so well-known, I try to phrase it in context or add another, similar-meaning word which people will understand.
    In musical terms, I like to try to get the impact of a Beethoven symphony in the same time as a Chopin waltz. 😉

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