When working on a tricky thesis or business report, I often wish I could have given this advice to the writer:

Relax... and keep it simple!


Self-consciousness is what kills writing dead – trying to imitate texts we’ve read, twisting ourselves into knots with convoluted ideas, hastily plastering the sentences with buzz-words in the hope that some of it will stick.

I love my work, but there are times when I will find myself staring miserably at a sentence or paragraph, wondering what it could possibly mean. I rarely admit defeat, but now and then I simply have to add a comment along the lines of ‘Sorry, I don’t understand this bit’. And guess what happens next? The writer returns the draft with a perfectly clear explanation – often good enough to just replace the original text. Why? Because they’re relaxed and talking ‘normally’.

At some time or other, we’ve all been guilty of pretentious writing (some hilarious examples here). But really, what does being ‘pretentious’ mean? It means we’re pretending to be someone else – that vague, slightly scary, faceless figure of authority who will impress our vague, slightly scary, faceless readers. Oddly enough, it has the opposite effect.

Just be yourself. You have a unique way of understanding things, and the only person who can give voice to it is you. Do it your way. Use your own words. Think of the world of ideas as a big cauldron to which you are adding a tiny pinch of seasoning (your special perspective) that might just make all the difference.

My grandmother’s birth certificate is ‘signed’ with a cross – the only way her mother knew how to make her mark; like many women at that time, she was unable to write her own name. We’ve come a long way since then. What are YOU going to express?