Simple vs. Sophisticated Writing

Simple and sophisticated writing differ in these aspects:

  • depth of thought and insight into the issue – Sophisticated writing deals with complicated issues, may offer a variety of insights or viewpoints, and analyzes and evaluates those viewpoints. On the other hand, simple writing deals with less complex/more obvious issues, offers mainly one viewpoint into the issue, and offers more information than analysis.
  • idea development in the support – Sophisticated writing develops ideas with fuller details and specifics than simple writing.
  • type of source used in the support – Sophisticated writing mainly uses sources written for professionals in the field of inquiry (e.g., an engineering journal), while simple writing mainly uses sources written for the general public (e.g., Popular Mechanics).
  • integration of source information – Sophisticated writers summarize and paraphrase source information in research essays, and try to “fit” all information together seamlessly, no matter what the source. Sophisticated writers weave source information with their own insights (while carefully citing source information). Writers on a simpler level tend to use large amounts of direct quotation with less personal insight and commentary.

Realize, though, that the distinction is not quite as simple as described above. A writer may create a sophisticated piece of writing about a seemingly simple, obvious topic. Sophistication comes in the way the writer thinks about and treats the topic. Despite what many people think, language use—flowery, complicated language—is not the primary way to distinguish simple from sophisticated writing. All writing, simple and sophisticated alike, should aim for clear, direct language. The sophisticated writer simply uses that clear language in a more creative or unique way.

Think of simple vs. sophisticated writing by using a food/cooking analogy.

Both types of writing start with the same few ingredients (main idea, supporting ideas, language).

bowl of tomatoes

Simple writing tends to use these ingredients in a traditional way, over and over again. And this is fine, as long as the combination results in a clear, direct product, such as a simple meal.

plate of tomatoes, cheese, and basil

Sophisticated writing, on the other hand, tends to add more ingredients and/or use ingredients in unusual ways, creating a fuller variety of taste, such as in a complex recipe or a large meal with many choices.

tomatoes and multiple ingredients in casserole sophisticated meal

Most writers start out on a relatively simple level and progress—so realize that the distinction between simple and sophisticated writing is not intended to scare you! It’s simply intended to help you become more aware of the goal to work toward. Greater sophistication, in writing as well as cooking, comes with practice, practice, practice.

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