It’s a common misconception that good writing involves long, complex sentences and big, flowery words. What each of us really need to ask ourselves when we sit down to write is this: Why do I write?
When I was younger, I used to do a lot of creative writing just for fun, and I would show it to my father. He would hand it back and say things like, “Awfully wordy” or “You need to be clearer.”
As a young, angsty teenage writer, I took offense to these comments of my father’s. “You just don’t understand. What I was trying to say was…”
But that was my father’s point. He didn’t understand. When my audience didn’t understand the point I was trying to make, I wasn’t writing well.
We write because we want people to tell our readers something. Writing isn’t simply an artistic form of self-expression. It’s a form of communication which involves interaction between the writer and the reader.
When your reader is having trouble understanding your writing because of misplaced modifiers, wordy sentences, overly complex words, passive verbs, or any other reason, the writer and writing aren’t communicating effectively. Generally readers respond better to simpler words and simpler sentences.
Passive voice is a great example of making a sentence longer and more complicated that it needs to be. It is much easier for a reader to understand:
The boy threw the ball and the puppy caught it.
The ball was thrown by the boy and caught in the mouth of the puppy.
Not only is the second sentence longer, but it is harder to understand. It is much easier for a reader to follow a subject doing something, like a boy throwing a ball, than having something happen to the subject, like a ball being caught.
The same premise goes for words. George Orwell said, “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.” It is much better to say, “The boy chewed his food” than “The boy masticated on his food.”
The simpler and clearer the writing, the easier it will be for the reader to understand the writing. When readers can easily understand writing, there is effective communication between writer and reader, and the writer has done his or her job.