Archive | January 2015

keep it simple stupid


Sometimes we forget the profound nature of simplicity. We get lost in the drive to complicate projects because there is a belief this makes them look more refined and intellectual. However, it was Charles Bukowski, who said,“Simplicity is always the secret, to a profound truth, to doing things, to writing, to painting. Life is profound in its simplicity.”

One of the greatest challenges when writing eLearning modules, is to maintain a level of simplicity, without falling into a mire of patronising statements. Keeping the writing simple in a module is paramount to the engagement of the learner. This can be as simple as substituting the word ‘paramount’ for ‘key’.

How often have you had a conversation with somebody who inserts huge pauses in the conversation because they’re desperately trying to think of a smart word to use? It’s unnecessary, annoying, and when they do eventually say ‘conflagration’ instead of ‘fire’ I find myself praying for a Taser.

Using simple words to populate simple sentences is an underappreciated art form, and we should all re-embrace the art of simple syntax. A sentence that is simple and direct will always win the day because it’s easy to grasp, and if it’s an instruction, it’s easy to act upon.

Once I’ve finished a first draft of a module, I trawl through it searching for complicated sentences that I can simplify. And by doing this, I refine the writing into a comprehensive whole that is easy to understand. Each sentence should only need to be read once. Having to re-read sentences is time consuming for the learner, and indicates that the module is not doing its job properly.

Think about some of the great opening sentences of books that are simple, yet profound. One of my favourites is the opening line of Naked Lunch by William Burroughs:

“I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves”

Or the opening line of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22:

“It was love at first sight.”

These simple sentences set a tone that no complicated sentence could do. They immediately convey a sense of voice, pace and atmosphere, without having to be verbose or bombastic. Ernest Hemingway called these ‘true sentences’ and by this, he did not mean they reflected a philosophical truth, but the sentence was true in the sense that it said exactly what it wanted to say. No more and no less.

So, when you write your next module think about the profound nature of simplicity and make sure you avoid the unnecessary clutter of sentences that distort meaning and interrupt the natural flow of syntax.

Making your point clearly the first time round is an invaluable skill in this life.


The Retraction


In my most recent blog, New Year’s Peeve, I wrote the following sentence, ‘I’ve only ever had one good New Year’s Eve (NYE) and that was because I spent it drinking champagne and downing oysters with a woman who also hated NYE’. This is not true.

After posting New Year’s Peeve, a good friend of mine, Aaron Firth Donato, called me up and said, ‘Hey cunty, what about 2007/8? That was a great NYE and you stayed at my place for three days, drinking my whisky and watching DVDs on my couch’. He makes a good point. I did have a great NYE and I did drink all his whisky and occupied his couch for three days, watching films that extol the virtues of stylized violence.

So, Aaron, this is my heartfelt apology to you because it was a great NYE and it took place during an oddly compelling summer, when I lived in Collingwood and walked the long corridor of my house wearing a red-wine-stained-white-dressing-gown, swilling from a bottle of cleanskin wine. I was completely broke, so I re-read A Happy Death by Albert Camus, and got a job writing copy for an OH&S company.

The rest of the year had its ups and downs and NYE 2008/9 was a bit dismal but I won’t get into that now because this post is meant to be an apology, and not another voyage into the skewed views of Callum Scott. This is a post about the value of friendship and taking responsibility for writing something that isn’t all together true.

That NYE party ensured that Aaron and I will always be friends and I’ll always be grateful for his honesty, even though it sometimes makes me angry, and makes me want to hurt him with knitting needles.

This post is for you Big Man.