On Minimalism in Writing and Other Forms of Communication

Minimalism is not about having less; it’s about making room for more of what matters.

–Melissa (Simple Lionheart Life)


Minimalism is a philosophy that we can apply to any aspect of life. It is about consciously nurturing what is essential and pruning what is not. Minimalism helps us focus on achieving our goals and fulfilling our lives.

Dead leaves and branches sap vital energy from a plant and produce nothing. When they are pruned, a plant can focus on producing fruits and flowers. Similarly, if we could consciously remove the useless—unnecessary stuff from our homes, toxic relationships from our personal lives, and mindless internet browsing from our digital lives—we could direct our time, energy, and resources to things that are meaningful and soul-nourishing.


Following minimalism in communication has no alternative. Our audience, whoever they are, do not care about what we know or do, nor should they. We get their attention only when we say something that interests them. If they do not find anything interesting easily and quickly, they get frustrated or bored, and we lose their attention. Following the principles of minimalism, we can become mindful of what is essential to our audience, and therefore be more effective in our communication.

In a world where we face a constant barrage of information in all possible forms, practising minimalism in communication is ever more critical if we want to be effective. Time and attention are becoming rare commodities. In this era, only if we can remove all that is non-essential in our communication—writing, graphic designing, audio-visual presentations, and speeches—and focus on what is relevant to our audience, we stand a chance in getting our message across.

Apart from effectiveness, minimalism in communication has other appeals. It is aligned with the sense of aesthetics. We tend to choose thoughtfully when there is a limit on how much we can choose, self-imposed or otherwise—and it is hard to produce something tasteless when you are working with only a handful of elements. Minimalism can also help us express humility. It makes us conscious about avoiding exaggeration, extravagance, and the use of flowery language.


At BIGD, we follow minimalism in our communication.


You will find countless resources online on how to practice minimalism in writing and other forms of communication. But here are some examples:

In Writing

Avoid all unnecessary words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and sections. Consciously evaluate whether every word is necessary—adding new information or insight, creating the desired emotion, or taking your writing forward. If not, delete them. The goal is to express your ideas with the fewest possible words.

Write as simply as you can—for example, avoid unwieldy passive structures, replace a difficult word with a simpler one, and avoid nominalization as much as you can.


I am not saying you cannot use complex structures and difficult words, but only when you need them to express your message precisely and produce the desired emotional effect. Besides, using complex structures in writing requires superior writing skills; otherwise, writing becomes confusing and prone to undetected grammatical errors.

Choose your words consciously. Every word has many synonyms; some are common and easy while others are difficult and lesser-known. Whenever possible, we should use simple words. But synonyms often have specific nuances, and if used in the right place, a difficult synonym can convey an idea more effectively. For example, you can be surprised by a friend’s unannounced visit who lives in the same town, but to be flabbergasted, your friend must pay his unannounced visit from the other side of the world after 20 years. Learning about these nuances enables us to use words in their rightful places and become effective and minimalist.


In Graphic Designing  

Try to keep your design clean. We need to use photographs, colours, and shapes to bring life to our design and highlight our messages. But we always need to ask ourselves what is needed. Do we need so many colours? Do we need so many lines, squares, and other shapes? Are we using a photograph to signify something or to fill the space? How can we integrate negative space in our design?  How can we achieve our desired goal of designing with as few components as possible?

The concept of data-to-ink ratio, popularized by the data visualization guru Edward Tufte, aims to generate the greatest information content for the least amount of ink used for visualization, on print or in digital media. In other words, it guides us on how we can express what we intend to with the least amount of text and graphics. This is a crucial concept for guiding our practice of minimalism in graphic designing as well as writing. But again, it is just a principle, not a commandment. We need to use our judgement to decide exactly what we need to use for most effectively expressing what we wish to.

Practising minimalism in communication does not imply that we assume our audience to be unintelligent or ignorant. It is about being respectful of their time and mental energy, making sure that they can focus on what they need—not on trying to make sense of convoluted sentences and difficult words or sifting through unnecessary information.


Nusrat Jahan is the Head of Business Development and Knowledge Management at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University