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S is for Simple – Simple can be the hardest thing.

This is the complexity curve, and it is your friend:

Complexity Curve

What it tells you is this: as you progress in your education, your writing becomes increasingly complex. It's a normal process - increasingly complex thinking requires increasingly complex words and sentence structure to convey it. Certain kinds of specialized vocabulary aid in clarity of thought.

However, just as you start to reach the top of the curve, there is a terrible danger zone, the hump. This is the place where a person becomes attached to complicated words and sentence structures, under the mistaken expression that this = smart sounding. The jargon piles on.

Scattered throughout recorded history are a small number of individuals who truly managed to sound better and better and smarter and smarter, the more complex their writing became.

Marcel Proust (1871-1922) was one. The novelist was so dedicated to his craft, that for the last three years of his life he avoided all social contact and worked virtually nonstop in his waking hours to complete his monumental work, Remembrance of Things Past.

Here is a sentence by Proust:

Long sentence

But you and I are not 22nd century Prousts.

As a rule we've got no business hanging out near the hump of the complexity curve, writing convoluted because we think they make us look very smart. At some point, we've got to round the top and head down the other side of things - to where increasingly smart thoughts go hand in hand with increasing simplicity of expression.

Consider the Supreme Court justices. Lawyers are famous for intentionally making their writing so complex that people who aren't trained and paid to read it may not be able to follow their reasoning. But if you look to the very highest echelon of legal practice - the Supreme Court - you'll nine very clean, clear, and often truly elegant, writers who strip away jargon whenever possible.

Justice Scalia says, for instance, that you should never use a phrase in a legal opinion that you'd sound awkward using in dinner party conversation.

And then of course there's Albert Einstein, the man whose face is the universal icon for "brilliant person." Einstein's thinking on the matter was: If you can't explain [something] to a six year old, then you don't understand it yourself.

That's the downslope of the curve, once you get over the hump. The more at ease you become with what you know, the more elegantly and compactly you can express it.

Simple is good.