March 1, 2017

Quotes on readability

What writers and others say

“A writer’s style should not place obstacles between his ideas and the minds of his readers.”
— Steve Allen, founder of “The Tonight Show”

“Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.”
— Matthew Arnold, British poet and cultural critic

“The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”
— George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics

“Treat messaging like you would treat a cold: Act early, repeat often and continue layering right through to the end.”
— Corporate communicator in a University of St. Gallen survey

“I never study style; all that I do is try to get the subject as clear as I can in my own head, and express it in the commonest language which occurs to me.”
— Charles Darwin, author of The Origin of the Species

“Abstruse and mystic thoughts you must express
with painful care, but seeming easiness;
for truth shines brightest thro’ the plainest dress.”
— Wentworth Dillon, English poet

“As much as 40 percent of the total costs of managing all business transactions is caused by poor communications. Today’s companies waste precious resources on email and websites that don’t reach their audience.”
— William H. DuBay, readability consultant, Impact Information: Plain Language Services

“If there is anything wrong with the formulas, it is that they are not used enough.”
— William H. DuBay, readability consultant, Impact Information: Plain Language Services

“Clarity is the most serious communication problem in business.”
— Ron Dulek, author of The Elements of Business Writing

“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, theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity

“In his work, the artist should be like God in creation: invisible and all-powerful. He should be felt everywhere and seen nowhere.”
— Gustave Flaubert, French novelist

“The writing of fiction has its own forms of morality. Its code … demands that the writer clean up toxic spills of syntax. … It calls for the renunciation of verbal pomp: ‘He was overwhelmed by a wave of self-loathing, panic and a sense of loss that, in staccato bursts, flushed the air from his lungs till the moisture in his sleep-starved eyes formed a vitreous glaze that mercifully blurred his reflection in the mirror.’ As the Book of John puts it, Jesus wept.”
— David Gates, author of The Wonders of the Invisible World, reviewing Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper

“More important than the quest for certainty is the quest for clarity.”
— Francois Gautier, writer and journalist based in India

“The Wall Street Journal manages its daily reporting on the twists and turns of the American economy with an average readability score of eleven. Newsweek scores at the same level. Most of the best writers at my paper, reporters who win national awards and produce lots of positive reader response, write at Flesh-Kincaid levels of ten or less. Tom Hallman, a Pulitzer Prize winner, usually scores about seven. Meet the Period.”
— Jack Hart, managing editor of The Oregonian, in A Writer’s Coach

“Unless one is a genius, it is best to aim at being intelligible.”
— Anthony Hope Hawkins, British novelist

“Plain language does not mean baby talk or dumbing down the language. It means clear and effective communication.”
— Joseph Kimble, chair of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Research & Writing Department

“Try to imagine the costs of poor writing … in business, government, and law. The costs are almost beyond imagining, and certainly beyond calculating.”
— Joseph Kimble, chair of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Research & Writing Department

“Write for the expert, but write so the non-expert can understand.”
— Bernard Kilgore, celebrated Wall Street Journal editor

“As George Orwell observed, fuzzy writing always reveals fuzzy thinking.”
— Paula LaRocque, author of Championship Writing

“I think of (convoluted) prose as ‘octopus writing’ because, to an octopus, the function of ink is not to reveal but to obscure.”
— Paula LaRocque, author of Championship Writing

“The truth is that the best communicators are and have always been the clearest communicators — from Winston Churchill to Albert Einstein.”
— Paula LaRocque, author of Championship Writing

“Clear means recognizable as clearly distinct and made up of distinct parts.”
— G.W. Leibniz, German mathematician and philosopher

“The oldest and best advice in the business is: The tougher it is to tell, the slower and simpler you tell it.”
— Bob Levey, Washington Post columnist

“In 1988, when speaking to a meeting of the Economic Club of New York, Mr. [Alan] Greenspan, now Federal Reserve chairman, said, ‘I guess I should warn you, if I turn out to be particularly clear, you’ve probably misunderstood what I’ve said.'”
— William Lutz, author of The New Doublespeak: Why No One Knows What Anyone’s Saying Anymore

“His speeches left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea.”
— William McAdoo, former U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Treasury

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
— Robert McCloskey, author and illustrator of children’s books

Readability: “the degree to which a given class of people find certain reading matter compelling and comprehensible.”
— G. Harry McLaughlin, creator of the SMOG readability formula

“Anybody can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.”
— Charles Mingus, jazz musician

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
— Charles Mingus, jazz musician

“Anything is better than not to write clearly. There is nothing to be said against lucidity, and against simplicity only the possibility of dryness. This is a risk well worth taking when you reflect how much better it is to be bald than to wear a curly wig.”
— W. Somerset Maugham, English playwright, novelist and short story writer

“To write simply is as difficult as to be good.”
— W. Somerset Maugham, English playwright, novelist and short story writer

“Your initial reaction may be: ‘But our audience is literate; they are college educated. Our subject matter is complex. We’re not going to use ‘baby talk’ that turns off readers.'”
— Douglas Mueller, president of the Gunning-Mueller Clear Writing Institute

“Definition of Literacy: the ability to understand and employ printed information in daily activities, at home, at work and in the community — to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”
— Organisation For Economic Co-Operation And Development

“Good prose is like a window pane.”
— George Orwell, 20th-century author and essayist, in “Why I Write”

“Less is more. Don’t get fancy, don’t overdo anything. Simplicity and power are not mutually exclusive. They are often one and the same.”
— Dan Pallotta, president of Springboard, in the Harvard Business Review

“The most valued quality of the language of journalism is clarity, and its most desired effect is to be understood.”
— Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute senior scholar

“Put it before them briefly so they will read it,
clearly so they will appreciate it,
picturesquely so they will remember it
and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.”
— Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the New York World

“Robert Pollack, a molecular biologist, in his book Signs of Life, calls the 1953 Nature paper by James Watson and Francis Crick that announced their discovery of the structure and function of DNA ‘a nine-hundred-word prose poem,’ and he’s right, it is. Popular discussion of left-brain versus right-brain functions distorts the work of the neurobiologists and physicians Roger Sperry, Joseph Bogan, Michael Gazzaniga, and others, whose original papers, published in the journal Brain in 1965 and 1967, are ‘highly readable and well within the grasp of a high-school student,’ according to Sperry’s fellow Nobel laureate David Hubel. If I were teaching a writing course, I’d require my students to read scientific papers as well as other examples of exceptional prose; they’re the best training I know in rigorous argument, a skill every writer can use.”
— Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb

“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 ’em.”
— Will Rogers, American humorist and entertainer

“An honest tale speeds best being plainly told.”
— William Shakespeare

“I see only one rule: to be clear. If I am not clear, then my entire world crumbles into nothing.”
— Stendhal, French novelist

“If you can’t convince them, confuse them.”
— Harry Truman, 33rd president of the United States

“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words, and brief sentences. That is the way to write English — it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; and don’t let the fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.”
—Mark Twain, American wit, in a letter to a 12-year-old boy

“Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half have never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.”
— Gore Vidal, author

“I write as straight as I can, just as I walk as straight as I can, because that is the best way to get there.”
— H. G. Wells, English novelist and historian

“I would feel enormous satisfaction in being regarded as the voice of the average American.”
— Thornton Wilder, American playwright and novelist

“The simpler you say it, the more eloquent it is.”
— August Wilson, American playwright

“What can be said at all can be said clearly.”
— Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher

“Lack of clarity is the number-one time-waster.”
— Frank Lloyd Wright, American architect, interior designer, writer and educator
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