Don’t use the word ‘simply’

Previously I described a magic way to clarify your writing: don’t use the word “it”. Here’s another heuristic: don’t use the word “simply”. Take these examples:

One approach is simply to compress the messages.

I can simply change my syntax and get more information using the same command.

Simply link in the CDN and get started.

All of these sentences are improved by removing the word “simply”. There are two possible cases:

  1. It really is simple. If it’s so simple, why are you saying it at all?
  2. It’s not as simple as you claim, so you’re insulting your reader.

It’s rare that something is too obvious, so case number 2 is much more likely. Your reader is not a mind-reader. Your uses of “simply” usually take one of the two forms:

In either case, the reader is left thinking, “This isn’t simple! Am I stupid, or is the writer too smart for me?”

Uses of “simply” are an attempt to glorify the writer instead of comfort the reader. The subtext is “I the writer am smart. I find this simple. You should too. If you don’t, you’re stupid.” Sometimes this subtext is deliberate; sometimes it is accidental. It is always bad. Stop insulting your reader!

Sometimes you want to use “simply” as a comparative.

Algorithm A is simpler than Algorithm B.

This is more acceptable, but if you still wish to avoid the risk of offense, consider

Algorithm B is more complex than Algorithm A.

There are other phrases in the same category as “simply”:

In every case, removal of the word or phrase results in crisper, friendlier text.

Tagged #writing, #technical-writing, #communication, #essay.

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