Today we write a lot, too much. And consequently we are called to read a lot. All digitally, where our cognitive ability is depressed.
The brain invokes simplicity, by its nature.
So when we write, if we want the digital reader to read us, we have to be simple, concise and selective.
Tullio De Mauro¹, perhaps the most famous Italian linguist, in his book Guide to the use of words² recalls that “if we want to do the most difficult profession, the profession of being human and civilized people, we can and must find, among the words of the language, those that make the senses we want to express better travel“.
Being simple without being trivial, superficial, reductive is an art.
However, it is the only way to reach everyone, even the most sophisticated readers. No one will ever thank you enough for being simple.
An old German adage, remembered by De Mauro, states that “in terms of language, Kant³ walks with the old peasant woman from Pomerania“.
The language is not watertight. Technicality is a relative concept, it should be spent only with those who understand it because it shares our know-how, our knowledge. Otherwise it must be explained. So if two doctors talk to each other and use the term “liver” no problem, but if they talk to a patient they must immediately clarify the meaning and contextualize it.
Be careful, however, of what Calvino⁴ called the antilingual, the one he uses “to carry out” instead of “to do”.
Most of the ideas can be expressed in the common language, made civil by the correct use of grammar and syntax. The worst happens when the language falls below the common level and renounces any grammatical or syntactic rule: then it is not a question of simplicity, but of pure debasement.
An essential rule is synthesis, which must be contextualized.
If I want to write a book and narrate, I will be able to choose my expressive canon, but if I have to write an email to a supplier, a formal letter or a CV and hope that someone will read me, the summary is a must.
Writing well in the company is essential, it translates into efficiency.
“There is no limit to synthesis“, warns De Mauro.
Those who know a lot mean a lot and do not realize, continues De Mauro, that they face many risks: “the worst is not realizing that many details important to him may not be interesting for those who listen or read. Shortness never hurt anyone“.
We have to select what we want to communicate.
However, our readers will not be able to pay us much attention. The time resource is scarce and the brain wants to save energy.
Having taken note of this, it is important that the selection of what, according to our purposes, we want to remain imprinted, is made by us.
Writing is an art and the only way is to practice it with patience and dedication.
Simplicity, synthesis and selection are the three good rules of business writing you can always rely on. Especially today, in the digital age.
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² De Mauro T., Guida all’uso delle parole. Parlare e scrivere semplice e preciso per capire e farsi capire, Editori Riuniti, 2003.