Thursday, 8 October 2009

KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

I'm sure many of you will have come across the acronym "K.I.S.S.", which stands for 'Keep It Simple, Stupid'.

It's something we should all remember with our writing. I'm just putting the finishing touches to a very different writing job at the moment. Is it a magazine article? No. Is it a short story? No. Is it a non-fiction book? No. It's a TOOLKIT. A what? Exactly!

For the past few weeks, I've been working for God. Well, actually, it is the Diocese of Hereford who have employed my services. A friend and ex-colleague of mine is organising a conference to be held in November in Hereford. She's invited over a hundred people from churches all over the UK to the event. Her job is to encourage communities to use churches as community buildings - not just as place of worship on a Sunday morning. Historically, churches always have been used for a wider community use, so her conference is designed to explain to community groups how to go about doing this.

In most cases, this involves making some changes to the church building. It may be as simple as removing pews and installing chairs, so they can be moved out of the way to create a space for the community to use. It could be to install some audio-visual equipment. (Some of you may recall the talk I went to in June about the Television series - Victorian Farm. This talk was complemented with a slideshow of pictures, projected from a computer onto a large screen - and yes, this all took place inside a church.)

But of course, these changes require money, which often involves applying for grants. Then of course, there's the need to go through the Church of England's own planning process to 'adapt' a church building.

The 'toolkit' that I have written for the people going to this conference is a basic step-by-step guide on how to deal with this process. Now, admittedly, I spent six years working in the grant arena - both applying for grants and managing grant programmes, so I have some knowledge of this process. But the reason the Diocese approached me is because I'm good with words.

There are thousands of people out there who work in the grant industry, many of who are capable of producing an impressive document, but they wanted someone who could write this information in a clear and simple way.

Applying for a grant involves lots of terminology. There's baseline data, outcomes, outputs, match-funding, leverage, defrayed expenditure, additionality, in-kind support and so the list goes on. I can see your eyes glazing over now! But big words shouldn't prevent someone from getting involved in an opportunity. So my job was to produce a 'toolkit' that ordinary people can understand.

Now, personally, I hate the word 'toolkit'. I would much prefer to have called it a 'guide'. But my customer wanted it called a 'toolkit' so a 'toolkit' it has been called. Because of this, I've given it a D.I.Y. theme. There can't be that many Church of England documents containing the phrases Channel 4's Challenge Anneka, Nick Knowles DIY SOS, Strippers (paint), and colour charts!

It's been written using language that people will understand. I've kept it simple. As writers our aim is to communicate with other people, so if you use words that are easy to understand, then more people will understand you.

One of the books I've written is called "Fundraising for a Community Project" and it tells ordinary people how to go about applying for grant money. I wrote it because I know from experience that this world is full of jargon, and when I used to do the job, I spent most of my time explaining that jargon.

I'm chuffed with the feedback that I've received from readers of this book. In fact, the latest review on Amazon says:

"This book is brilliant. It is most readable, gives examples, where and how to approach funders."

I particularly like the phrase 'it is most readable'. Wow. A book on the stuffy subject of applying for grants is 'most readable'. I feel good when I see phrases like that. It means I did a good job as a writer in keeping it simple.

So keep your writing as clear and simple as you can and your readers will be pleased. And editors love writers who please readers.

Good luck.

7 comments:

  1. 100% agree, Simon. I now recycle, without reading, any post that is written in Jargon (I treat is as a foreign language), and anything that is more than one side of A4. This means I haven't read anything from my bank or about my forthcoming pension for years. Imagine how much time I've saved.
    You worked in a bank. Did you know what K.I.S.S. meant in those faraway days? And if so why didn't you tell the rest of 'em?

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  2. Enjoy the DIY Toolkit LOL.

    You are so right. When I worked in the legal field letters from barristers were written in complicated language which the solicitor then interpreted to his clients by writig a letter to explain what the barrister was saying. I liked learning the new terms but when you are a lay person running a busy company you haven't got time to grab a legal dictionary to find out what was written to you.

    So I fully understand what you mean about clear language.

    One thing I have found out with consultants is when they are in a meeting together there are so many acronymns used in the medical field that not all the professionals know what they are. When a lay person enters a meeting for whatever purpose they are given a brief breakdown of terms and have to referring to that. This takes time and often the terms are not in this brief list.

    Frequently lay people will put their hands up and say excuse me what does that term mean. The professionals look at the lay person and say thank you.Daft but true. I see it all the time in the meetings I attend.

    Have a good weekend.

    Fee

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  3. Lynne

    In the bank, K.I.S.S stood for Krap Interest, Stay Schtum!

    And Fee, yes, sometimes asking professionals what acronyms and complicated words actually mean can shut them up, when the realise that they don't know themselves, but just end up using them anyway!

    Simon

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  4. Should it be K.I.S.S. or K.I.S.S?

    Likewise with D.I.Y. or D.I.Y?

    I was always taught that the full stop was required for an abbreviation - which these are - not for separation purposes.

    Sorry to be pedantic, but these things bug me.

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  5. Hi Anonymous

    The answer to your questions is ... it depends. This is purely a stylistic point. I personally follow New Hart's Rules, a style guide created in the 1890's, but is updated regularly. Styles change, and current guidance in this book suggests that a full stop is not required these days. Because KISS has been capitalised, current belief is that this is enough to distinguish it from 'Kiss'. But this is purely down to personal style. Another publisher may agree with you and insist that there should be full stops.

    Some publishers think 'UK' is fine, others insist on 'U.K.' The golden rule is, follow the style your publisher insists upon.

    For more information about New Hart's Rules visit: http://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Harts-Rules-Handbook-Reference/dp/0198610416/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1255007176&sr=8-1

    I hope that helps.

    Simon

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  6. Thanks! But that doesn't answer the query - if you're using full stops in between the first three letters of K.I.S.S - then why not at the end too - as in the UK/U.K. example?

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  7. Hi Anonymous

    Sorry - I understand what you mean now! Put the missing full stops down to careless fingers not caressing the keyboard properly and poor eyes not picking up the errors!

    Hope that helps you sleep better at night :-)

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