1. Find the core – Chip and Dan Heath, authors of “Made to Stick,” believe that “the curse of knowledge” hampers our ability to simplify complex ideas. We struggle to share what we know because we can’t readily recreate our readers’ states of mind. One way around this problem is to make your ideas “sticky” or memorable.
They suggest you find “the single most important thing.” To get to the point, weave this central idea into everything from articles to slogans.
2. Compare – The Heath brothers also recommend you tap into existing schemas. Schemas consist of information stored in our memories, like when someone tells you they saw a sports car, and it brings to mind the image of a red sedan.
Analogies, such as similes and metaphors, draw their power from schemas. Such comparisons also ease our understanding of concepts.
Example: The internet is like an ocean (simile); the internet is a sea of information (metaphor).
3. Reframe it as a story – This method can work well to explain technical terms. For example, in the movie “The Big Short,” singer/actor Selena Gomez and chef Anthony Bourdain periodically tell stories that explain financial concepts.
4. Structure it – Breaking down your ideas prevents you from delivering them all at once, resulting in information overload. Simplify your ideas through:
- Numbering steps in a logical order
- Separating sentences or phrases with bullet points
- Showing a map or a diagram, such as a concept map that shows relationships between different ideas
5. Simplify – The bigger the idea or more complex the wording, the harder it can be to understand. Cut the clutter through:
- Giving examples
- Turning jargon or technical terms (gibberish) into everyday English through shorter words and phrases
- Avoiding puns and other forms of wordplay
- Writing as if you’re explaining the concept to a 12-year-old; instead of dumbing it down, “show” rather than “tell.” Example: In explaining how to tie a Gordian knot, you could start with the statement “Imagine you have two strings, like the ones you use to tie your shoes. Let’s call them String A and String B.”
For more insights on how to simplify complex concepts in your writing, read 5 Ways to Think Clearly to Write Clearly.
Discover how business writing coaching can help you simplify complex wording and ideas.
How do you simplify complex concepts in your writing? Feel free to comment below.
“Use the ‘Will my Mom understand this?’ testing method before you publish.” ~ Amy Higgins, Senior Director, Content Strategy, Twilio
“The Golden Rule is the ultimate model of simplicity: a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.” ~ Chip and Dan Heath, “Made to Stick”