Thursday, September 12, 2013

Simple, clear, memorable

In 1966, I attended a one-day Smith System course in defensive driving. The course taught five important behaviors, which are now called The Smith 5 Keys to Space Cushion Driving:
Aim high in steering.
Get the big picture.
Keep your eyes moving.
Leave yourself an out.
Make sure they see you.
I have been able to recall The Smith 5 Keys – word for word – for 47 years. The main reason* they are memorable is that they consist of short words (17 one-syllable words and 4 two-syllable words) and short sentences (average 4.2 words per sentence).

That is about as simple as language gets, except in primary school.

The Takeaway: Whenever you need to write or present information of high importance, try to follow the example of The Smith 5 Keys: Use mostly short words and short sentences. Your writing and speaking will be clearer and more memorable than ever before. You will stand out from other writers and presenters.

See disclaimer.
*Here are three other reasons: (1) They use parallel structure, which adds power and aids memorization; (2) they use active voice, which is easier to understand than passive voice; and (3) they use imperative mood, which is the natural mood for teaching.

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