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Historical Quotes

Many famous writers, politicians, and others have commented over the centuries on the importance of writing clearly and briefly.

Hard writing makes easy reading.
An old adage

Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in a few words.
Apocrypha

People think I can teach them style. What stuff it all is! Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.
Matthew Arnold, 1898

To simplify complications is the first essential of success.
George Earle Buckle

I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.
Truman Capote

His Majesty the King requires that the Royal Chancellery in all written documents endeavor to write in clear, plain Swedish.
King Charles XII of Sweden, commanding his troops in Eastern Europe, 1713

[Writing is] largely a matter of application and hard work, or writing and rewriting endlessly until you are satisfied that you have said what you want to say as clearly and simply as possible. For me that usually means many, many revisions.
Rachel Carson, Author of Silent Spring

Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge.
Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words when short are best of all.
Winston Churchill

When you wish to instruct, be brief; that men’s minds take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.
Cicero

Words in prose ought to express the intended meaning; if they attract attention to themselves, it is a fault; in the very best styles you read page after page without noticing the medium.
Works of imagination should be written in very plain language; the more purely imaginative they are, the more necessary it is to be plain.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Leonardo da Vinci

Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius-and a lot of courage-to move in the opposite direction.
Albert Einstein

The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words.
George Eliot

You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Whenever we can make 25 words do the work of 50, we halve the area in which looseness and disorganization can flourish.
Wilson Follett

Any one who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.
H.W. Fowler

The finest words in the world are only vain sounds if you can’t understand them.
The best sentence? The shortest.
Anatole France

Words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.
Nathaniel Hawthorne

The most important lesson in the writing trade is that any manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat.
Robert Heinlein

The chief virtue that language can have is clearness, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar words.
Hippocrates

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
Hans Hofmann

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.
Thomas Jefferson

Do not accustom yourself to use big words for little matters.
A man who uses a great many words to express his meaning is like a bad marksman who instead of aiming a single stone at an object takes up a handful and throws at it in hopes he may hit.
Samuel Johnson

Words, like glasses, obscure everything they do not make clear.
Before using a fine word, make a place for it.
Joseph Joubert

Use familiar words—words that your readers will understand, and not words they will have to look up. No advice is more elementary, and no advice is more difficult to accept. When we feel an impulse to use a marvelously exotic word, let us lie down until the impulse goes away.
James J. Kilpatrick

Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
C.S. Lewis

Many a poem is marred by a superfluous word.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The secret of play-writing can be given in two maxims: stick to the point, and, whenever you can, cut.
W. Somerset Maugham

Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.
Charles Mingus

Good Prose should be transparent—like a window pane.
The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.
George Orwell

The letter I have written today is longer than usual because I lacked the time to make it shorter.
Blaise Pascal

Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood.
William Penn

Words are like leaves; and where they most abound, Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.
Alexander Pope

The shorter and the plainer the better.
Beatrix Potter

One should aim not at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand.
Quintilian

I love words but I don’t like strange ones. You don’t understand them and they don’t understand you. Old words is like old friends, you know ‘em the minute you see ‘em.
Will Rogers

It behooves us to avoid archaisms. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
William Safire

Men of few words are the best men.
William Shakespeare

The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.
George Bernard Shaw

If you would be pungent, be brief; for it is with words as with sunbeams—the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.
Robert Southey

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subject only in outline, but that every word tell.
William Strunk and E. B. White

The trouble with so many of us is that we underestimate the power of simplicity.
Robert Stuberg

Anybody can have ideas—the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.
I never write “metropolis” for seven cents when I can write “city” and get paid the same.
As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.
Mark Twain

No compulsion in the world is stronger than the urge to edit someone else’s document.
H. G. Wells

Use the smallest word that does the job.
E.B. White

Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.
William Butler Yeats

Be grateful for every word you can cut.
Writing improves in direct ratio to the things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there.
William Zinsser

He that uses many words for explaining any subject, doth, like the cuttlefish, hide himself for the most part in his own ink.
John Ray, naturalist