The Minimalist Approach to Words

Mondrian is a great example of minimalist art.

Minimalism—extreme simplification—is an approach to art, and I believe effective communication often favors minimalism as well. Many restaurants in our city have one-word names: Crave, Zip’s, Nectar, Bakersfield, Champs, Currito, Melt, and Dynasty, just to name a few. One new restaurant has taken an even more minimalist measure; that restaurant is named “M.”

I heard a minister simplify what could be a very complicated answer when he defined preaching: “It’s just bragging on Jesus until He shows up.”

Tasks which involve emergencies have always found simple and short words of expression: “Call 911,” “stop,” danger,” “fire,” “help,” “look out,” and “jump.”

One of the benefits of revising and revisiting a presentation script or an essay is to find ways of expressing yourself with fewer words. A well-prepared essay or speech will not include verbosity or overdone explanations.

Yahoo Answers had this question, “Can you give me examples of verbose sentences?”

The response was,”Actually, yes; I suppose I could find it within my capacity to undertake such an activity, even though my schedule on this day is really quite busy. I have a small opening of available time that I could use for the purpose of composing a sentence or two that are more or less verbose in nature.”

The correct answer was a simple “Yes,” but what an effective example!

Although the above was exaggerated, you can see what happens when you give too much information. Perhaps texting and email have made everyone more sensitive to brief messages.

An effective way of developing this skill is to write down your thought. Looking at it on paper will often help you find ways to shorten the message. Speak the idea and get feedback from a colleague or friend. When preparing, keeping asking yourself, “What is a shorter way of expressing this idea?”

Mark Twain, a great wordsmith, wrote, “The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it.”


Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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