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Simple Writing for a Complex Audience

Carlene Palm

Manager, Client & Author Services

As a writer, you might feel like you should try to impress your audience with poetic vocabulary and advanced structure. Naturally, you want your piece to be creative so that it draws your readers in and makes your writing stand out, but it is possible to stand out in a negative way. If you make your writing too complex, it can become hard to follow and difficult to finish reading, which can unintentionally push your audience away. Don’t be afraid to take a step back and bring things down a notch; keeping things simple can often make for a better article.


It can be tempting to bring out a thesaurus and spice up your vocabulary, but bigger words aren’t always better. While you should try to write at a higher level, your readers shouldn’t need to bring out the dictionary to understand your content. If you find your phrasing to be bland and in need of an upgrade, then by all means, switch things up. But try to stick with words that are familiar and won’t have your audience Googling definitions online.

For example, here are some good options to replace the adjective “kind.”

  • Amiable
  • Cordial
  • Gracious

These synonyms, on the other hand, aren’t as easily recognizable.

  • Eleemosynary
  • Clement
  • Propitious


Much like with vocabulary, using complex punctuation in each sentence can make it seem like your article is sophisticated, but there’s a time and a place for each semicolon and dash. Of course, AP Style has its own rules for every punctuation mark, and as long as you follow them, you’ll be golden. Just remember that moderation is key: Exclamation points and dashes shouldn’t appear in every other sentence.

In the following example, we use em dashes to offset a nonessential phrase. While it’s not technically wrong, this structure should be used sparingly to avoid stuffing your article with unnecessary punctuation, and commas should be more frequently used instead.

“Jamie — who has red hair — loves going to the park with his dog.”

Remember Your Audience

None of these are steadfast rules and should really be dependent on the subject of your article. Each piece you write will have a targeted audience you should cater to. If your article is intended for a wide variety of people, skip complicated words and long sentence structures. Instead, keep things easy to read so that your reader won’t lose interest in what you have to say. Just be careful not to go too simple though. While you should be cautious about your punctuation, getting rid of it altogether can lead to choppy sentences, and if you constantly use the same simple words, it can come off as boring or redundant. Understand the reading level of your audience and you’ll be sure to write content that meets their needs.

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Barbara Hardin 14. August 2019 - 4:18

Your article is right on the mark. As a retired newspaper editor, my AP Style book was, and still is, my bible for writing.

I have already signed up for Textbroker; however, I haven’t participated because I never received instructions as to how to proceed. Can you offer any guidance?

Thanks so much,
Barbara Hardin


corteznapue 19. August 2019 - 23:53

Hi Barbara! Everything looks fine on our end and you should be able to log in. Are you having issues logging in or accessing your account? If yes, please contact [email protected] and they should be able to get you squared away! 🙂


Faye Newman 29. January 2020 - 23:07

I most often write the way I speak. I was blessed to have a mother whose vocabulary was excellent, and I learned from her. As a result, I use a varied vocabulary.Sometimes, fellow writers think use too many complicated words. How do I find a happy medium, or should I worry about it?


TB Staff 31. January 2020 - 9:11

Hi Faye, Thank you for your question! You’ll really want to keep in mind who you’re targeting with the content. When in doubt, we’d recommend reaching out to the client for clarity!


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