Simplicity Is Anything But Simple


“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

This has been attributed to everyone from Samuel Johnson to Abe Lincoln to Mark Twain. And if you’ve ever tried to write a one-page (or one-paragraph) brief on your technology, you probably understand exactly what it means. If you’ve ever tried to read a 20-page brief on a new technology, you probably also understand exactly what it means.

One of the most challenging things for technology-based companies, particularly in the cleantech space, is to explain what they do and why it matters in a concise, clear manner. And it’s not because the folks writing don’t know what they’re talking about – quite the opposite, in fact. Writing a “short letter” is a matter of distilling vast amounts of information. Here are three simple pieces of advice:

Know your audience. Who are you talking to? Investors? Great! Keep it short and sweet, and show off your knowledge when they ask you questions. Potential customers? Consider what they really care about, and address those points.

Keep it simple. Complicated is not the same as sophisticated. And simplicity is anything but simple. You want your audience to understand what you’re telling them…fast, and on the first try. So make sure you’re not overloading on technical terms and complex explanations when common terms and simple metaphors can suffice.

Do the Smart Journalist test. Especially when it comes to outward-facing materials like Websites, make sure you’re not putting undue pressure on your reader. The last thing you want is to make them work too hard at understanding what you do. So ask yourself: would a smart journalist understand what I’m saying here? Without having to consult Wikipedia?

Simple is tough. Clear is tough. Concise can be even tougher. So don’t be shy about asking us how we can help. After all, that’s what we’re here for.


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