Historical Quotes on Plain Language and Writing Simply
Many famous writers, politicians, and others have commented over the centuries on the importance of writing clearly and briefly.
Hard writing makes easy reading.
An old adage
Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in a few
People think I can teach them style. What stuff it
all is! Have something to say, and say it as clearly
as you can. That is the only secret of style.
Matthew Arnold, 1898
To simplify complications is the first essential of
George Earle Buckle
I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.
His Majesty the King requires that the Royal Chancellery
in all written documents endeavor to write in clear,
King Charles XII of Sweden, commanding his troops in Eastern Europe, 1713
[Writing is] largely a matter of application and hard
work, or writing and rewriting endlessly until you are
satisfied that you have said what you want to say as
clearly and simply as possible. For me that usually
means many, many revisions.
Rachel Carson, Author of Silent Spring
Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge.
Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words when short are best of all.
When you wish to instruct, be brief; that men's minds
take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and
retain it faithfully. Every word that is unnecessary
only pours over the side of a brimming mind.
Words in prose ought to express the intended meaning;
if they attract attention to themselves, it is a fault;
in the very best styles you read page after page without
noticing the medium.
Works of imagination should be written in very plain language; the more purely imaginative they are, the more necessary it is to be plain.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Leonardo da Vinci
Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and
more violent. It takes a touch of genius-and a lot of
courage-to move in the opposite direction.
The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing
You don't write because you want to say something,
you write because you have something to say.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Whenever we can make 25 words do the work of 50, we
halve the area in which looseness and disorganization
Any one who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour,
before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy
qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and
The finest words in the world are only vain sounds
if you can't understand them.
The best sentence? The shortest.
Words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing
in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become,
in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.
The most important lesson in the writing trade is that
any manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat.
The chief virtue that language can have is clearness,
and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar
The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary
so that the necessary may speak.
The most valuable of all talents is that of never using
two words when one will do.
Do not accustom yourself to use big words for little
A man who uses a great many words to express his meaning is like a bad marksman who instead of aiming a single stone at an object takes up a handful and throws at it in hopes he may hit.
Words, like glasses, obscure everything they do not
Before using a fine word, make a place for it.
Use familiar words—words that your readers will understand,
and not words they will have to look up. No advice is
more elementary, and no advice is more difficult to
accept. When we feel an impulse to use a marvelously
exotic word, let us lie down until the impulse goes
James J. Kilpatrick
Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say
'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll
have no word left when you want to talk about something
Many a poem is marred by a superfluous word.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The secret of play-writing can be given in two maxims:
stick to the point, and, whenever you can, cut.
W. Somerset Maugham
Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making
the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity.
Good Prose should be transparent—like a window pane.
The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.
The letter I have written today is longer than usual
because I lacked the time to make it shorter.
Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but
always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation,
but to be understood.
Words are like leaves; and where they most abound,
Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.
The shorter and the plainer the better.
One should aim not at being possible to understand,
but at being impossible to misunderstand.
I love words but I don't like strange ones. You don't
understand them and they don't understand you. Old words
is like old friends, you know 'em the minute you see
It behooves us to avoid archaisms. Never use a long
word when a diminutive one will do.
Men of few words are the best men.
The biggest problem with communication is the illusion
that it has been accomplished.
George Bernard Shaw
If you would be pungent, be brief; for it is with words
as with sunbeams—the more they are condensed, the
deeper they burn.
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain
no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences,
for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary
lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires
not that the writer make all his sentences short, or
that he avoid all detail and treat his subject only
in outline, but that every word tell.
William Strunk and E. B. White
The trouble with so many of us is that we underestimate
the power of simplicity.
Anybody can have ideas—the difficulty is to express
them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea
that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.
I never write "metropolis" for seven cents when I can write "city" and get paid the same.
As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.
No compulsion in the world is stronger than the urge
to edit someone else's document.
H. G. Wells
Use the smallest word that does the job.
Think like a wise man but communicate in the language
of the people.
William Butler Yeats
Be grateful for every word you can cut.
Writing improves in direct ratio to the things we can keep out of it that shouldn't be there.
He that uses many words for explaining any subject, doth, like the
cuttlefish, hide himself for the most part in his own ink.
John Ray, naturalist