Simplicity is a judgment made by people (e.g., readers & users) about whether a text or design of a product or app is as simple as possible given the complexity of the topic and rhetorical situationSimplicity is a highly prized attribute of communication. Learn how to identify the absence and presence of simplicity in your writing and the texts of others. Use simplicity (along with brevity, flow and unity) to create a professional writing style.

simplicity in writing: waterfall flowing into sea


Simplicity is

  • a textual attribute, an element of style, that describes a style of writing that is as straightforward and uncomplicated as possible given the complexity of the topic, the writer’s aims, and the complexities of the rhetorical situation.
  • the art of minimizing unnecessary complexities in both language and structure to ensure that the intended message is transmitted clearly and efficiently
  • a design philosophy grounded in usability studies and customer discovery.

Simplicity in style doesn’t necessarily mean simplicity in content. Simplicity does not imply a diminution of complexity or richness in thought. Invariably, some writing projects are incredibly complex and decipherable only by other experts. Thus, texts that users describe as “simple” can be incredibly complex! What sets these sorts of highly prized texts from texts that lack this textual attribute is that they are not needlessly complex.

Related Concepts: Clarity; Design Thinking; Styles of Writing; Customer Discovery; Persona; Tone; Voice.

Why Does Simplicity Matter?

When texts are needlessly obtuse, readers/users will click elsewhere.

Perhaps because we are bombarded with information on a daily basis, we tend to have little patience with superfluous language, including vague language, disorganized prose, on unsupported claims and underdeveloped content.

Readers/Users have a million other things they could be do than reading your text.

How Can I Achieve Simplicity in My Writing?

First, you might find it useful to look at simplicity as happening on two levels:

  1. The Global Perspective
  2. The Local Perspective

Simplicity from a Global Perspective

As readers or users, we hate it when writers go off on tangents and introduce unrelated information/data or employ inappropriate rhetorical appeals.

To achieve simplicity at the global level, you need to maintain a tight focus on your purpose and audience.

  1. Begin prewriting by analyzing your rhetorical situation.
    1. You need a robust understanding of the topic and audience to differentiate given information (what the audience already knows) from new information. Identify the media, genres, and channels of communication your audiences use for communications.
  2. Consider design principles and elements of design. What information/data visualizations can help your readers/users understand what they should do, cause and effect, analysis—and so on.
    1. Visual language is a powerful tool of simplicity. What photographs, illustrations, and videos can be added to your text to exemplify or illustrate something? Rather than a traditional alphabetical text, should you compose an infographic?
  3. Organize information around a thesis, research question, and conventional organizational schema.

Simplicity from a Local Perspective

Simplicity involves choosing words and phrases that are simple and precise. It eschews jargon, overly complex language, and convoluted sentence structures, all of which can obfuscate meaning and impede understanding.

Unless the text is intended to be a work of literature/art, most audiences just want the bottom line. For many people this translates into succinct prose, a professional/technical writing style, and introductory paragraphs written in a deductive style that identifies the thesis/purpose for writing. These sorts of semantic and stylistic attributes, packaged in common academic and business genres, constitutes what is collectively called a professional writing prose style.

Simplicity @ Paragraph Level

Simplicity at the paragraph level is often associated with clarity flow, coherence, and unity.

Simplicity @ Sentence Level

At the sentence level, simplicity is tied to

  1. absence of diction/word level errors
  2. absence of grammatical and mechanical errors
  3. syntax and mechanics, including sentence patterns, sentence structures.


Strunk, W., In White, E. B., White, E. B., & White, E. B. (2009). The elements of style.

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