keep-it-simple-postKeep it simple. How many times have you heard that phrase? A lot, I bet.

You probably embrace the concept.

Unfortunately, the concept seems unclear to much of the business world.

  • Why is simple so hard?
  • Because we make it that way

The story goes that the originator of the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle was an engineer for Lockheed and creator of spy planes. His theory? A simple design system is easier to manage.

Are you thinking, Duh?

Is simple really that – well – simple? Or does it take an engineer to keep it simple?

I admit I have a soft spot for engineers. My dad was an engineer and although I did not inherit his engineering mind, it still fascinates me.

Ask about any invention and you often find an engineer created it. But, I do not think engineers have a lock on the K.I.S.S. principle.

My Keep It Simple Quest

I worked in the insurance/employee benefits industry. Between its own quirks and those of the laws governing the industry, it produced a lot of less-than-perfect communication.

The following are examples of the industry’s typical approach to business communication.


When I began muttering to myself or shouting at the document, I decided to try to make the complex simple. Thus, began my quest to keep it simple.

The Simple Shuffle of Words

Recently, I discovered Henneke Duistermaat’s blog, Enchanting Marketing. Great blog. Check it out if you haven’t already.

A response Henneke made to one of my comments resonated with me. She views editing as a game. Have fun with what you’ve written.

Simple, right? If you’re like me, editing is more chore than fun. But, editing is your chance to return business communication to simple.

The following are tips for keeping business communication simple. I’ve edited the original copy to make it more fun. Want to play?

dj-image1. Read Out Loud

This is another version of talking to yourself. Some of my best conversations have been with me.

Imagine you are a radio DJ. Hear yourself through the ears of your listeners (or readers).

  • Are you changing the dial before you reach the end of a sentence?
  • Do you realize that’s not static but snoring coming across the airwaves?
  • Does the word, “Huh?” pop into your head?

Edit Yourself. No listener appreciates a DJ with diarrhea of the mouth (sorry, one of my dad’s southernisms – gross, but descriptive).

  • Play whac-a-mole on words you don’t need
  • Plug into your listener’s imagination – remember you’re on the radio – get descriptive, share stories – make it fun!
  • Picture your grandmother’s first time accessing audio online – does she get what you’re saying?

yellow-highlighter2. Highlight

Another trick I use to keep business communication simple is reviewing my copy for key ideas.

Too many ideas muddle your message. Kind of like bling messes with your intended look.

For those of you who think there is no such thing as too much bling, substitute plastic surgery for bling. Not a pretty picture, is it?

Pull out your highlighter. No, not your makeup highlighter. Although, I guess that could work, too.

This is definitely an “old school” technique, but then I was born before God invented computers.

  • Take the hardcopy document and highlight key ideas
  • When reviewing, chunk it into smaller sections
  • Highlight key words, phrases or statistics

There is no need to highlight whole sentences. Just highlight enough of the sentence to understand the idea.

  • Does one paragraph have more yellow bling than a roomful of rappers?
  • Is there a ton of text between your highlights?

Your business communication may need a makeover. The next tip will help you nip and tuck with a gentle hand.

three-fingers3. Think Three

Perhaps it is the logical beginning – middle – end that attracts our minds to understanding groups of three. But, it works.

Look at your highlighted text. Can you create a story with a beginning, middle, and end?

Pretend you are an Oscar-winning screenwriter.

  • How does your story start?
  • What is your ending?
  • How does it go from beginning to end?

That’s the funny thing about stories. Although as audience members we don’t want to know the ending before we get there, the writer often starts with the ending.

In business communication, chunk your copy into smaller parts – by paragraph or headings.

Ask these three questions.

  1. What is the point or subject matter?
  2. How do you conclude or end your communication?
  3. Have you provided sufficient proof or supporting evidence?

Like the screenwriter who uses a top-notch script editor, you may want to call in help. I know. Your writing is your baby. But, that editor may remove that baby food stain that you missed in your clean-up.

A Simple Ending

With radio ears, a highlighter, and three fingers, you, too, can create simple, clear, and uniquely yours business communication. Your readers will thank you.

How do you keep it simple? Share your tips in Comments.


Big Stock Photo Credit

Canva design

NOTE: This is an update of a blog post originally published on October 6, 2010. I hope you enjoy the post.


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