Clear Writing is Hard Work

One of my favorite Facebook and Twitter memes is the Einstein photo with the quote overlay: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

Alas, skeptics.stackexchange.com is only one site questioning the quote's veracity, offering this lively crowd-sourced discussion about the claim. 

Attributable or not to Einstein, the truth within the quote is worth embracing. 

As a young New Yorker in 2000/2001, I thought I was a pretty great writer. Turns out, I wasn't. Thankfully, the partner I worked for was not only a hard-ass, but apparently had the patience of Job, because she endured the several months it took me to relearn how to write for business.

Equally patient—ometime during those same years—was my dear friend Marquel. She spent one memorable hours-long session with me on the Barnes & Noble Lincoln Square floor surrounded by piles of business writing books. She also listened to my belly-aching about the struggle! Major points for Marquel.

Of the six books I bought that night, Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia O'Conner proved the most helpful. And the funniest. I could probably stand to read it again, come to think of it.

So that's the back story to the joy I felt upon reading Victoria Clayton's superb October 26, 2015 article in The Atlantic: The Needless Complexity of Academic Writing. 

I've been working with a lot of PhDs-to-be lately, and am happy to report that they write clearly, by and large. Their curiosity and intellect is obviously deep, but they also have a fresh sensibility about and interest in communicating with the world outside of academia. I haven't read their dissertations—most still in progress—but their résumés and cover letters are clear and straightforward.

If you struggle with hyperbole, sentence structure, overwriting, lack of clarity, and beyond, you'll find all of the links in this blog post to be helpful resources. And take it from the guy who once relearned how to write who now makes his living writing: it can be done. You just have to realize the problem, and then set your mind to it.