30 Famous Authors On Writing In Plain Language

30 Famous Authors On Writing In Plain Language


In this post from Writers Write, your top writing resource, we share a selection of authors’ quotes on writing in plain language.

If we write to impress, we often fail. We simply show our inexperience and ignorance as writers. Using an elaborate style, with big words and jargon, shows our insecurity with expressing ourselves. Our message is lost in the mess of words we’ve created.

If we use simple words to express complex ideas, people tend to respond to us.

I chose 30 quotes from famous writers in history to show that this wisdom is timeless.

30 Famous Quotes On Writing In Plain Language 

  1. Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in a few words. ~Apocrypha
  2. Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style. ~Matthew Arnold
  3. To simplify complications is the first essential of success. ~George Earle Buckle
  4. When you wish to instruct, be brief. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind. ~Cicero
  5. 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. ~Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  6. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. ~Leonardo da Vinci
  7. 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. ~Albert Einstein
  8. The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words. ~George Eliot
  9. Whenever we can make 25 words do the work of 50, we halve the area in which looseness and disorganisation can flourish. ~Wilson Follett
  10. Anyone who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid. ~Henry Watson Fowler
  11. The finest words in the world are only vain sounds if you can’t understand them. ~Anatole France
  12. The most important lesson in the writing trade is that any manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat. ~Robert Heinlein
  13. The chief virtue that language can have is clearness, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar words. ~Hippocrates
  14. The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. ~Hans Hofmann
  15. The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do. ~Thomas Jefferson
  16. 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. ~Samuel Johnson
  17. 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 marvellously exotic word, let us lie down until the impulse goes away. ~James J. Kilpatrick
  18. Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity. ~Charles Mingus
  19. 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. ~George Orwell
  20. The letter I have written today is longer than usual because I lacked the time to make it shorter. ~Blaise Pascal
  21. 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. ~William Penn
  22. The shorter and the plainer the better. ~Beatrix Potter
  23. One should aim not at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand. ~Quintilian
  24. Men of few words are the best men. ~William Shakespeare
  25. 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. ~William Strunk and E.B. White
  26. The trouble with so many of us is that we underestimate the power of simplicity. ~Robert Stuberg
  27. As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out. ~Mark Twain
  28. Use the smallest word that does the job. ~E.B. White
  29. Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people. ~William Butler Yeats
  30. Writing improves in direct ratio to the things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there. ~William Zinsser

If you want to learn how to write to communicate, join The Plain Language Programme.

by Amanda Patterson

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This article has 1 comment

  1. Mike Brown

    The consistent key in all these – say enough for the reader/audience to comprehend your meaning and intent so they can experience the story in their mind’s eye. If we oversell or overwrite, what imagination does the reader/audience need and their interest wanes. Treat your reader as an adult, not a mindless child. Engage, even inform as needed, but not instruct.

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