top of page
  • Writer's pictureClare Tarling

You can't see gravity: the value of long, complicated documents

As an Easy Read designer, a lot of my work is about editing long documents, to make them more accessible. A 20,000-word strategy can become a 600-word, large-print summary, with a little thought and liberal use of the delete button. 

I was taken aback recently when one of my documents was heavily complimented and compared much too favourably against the original, much wordier, version. Of course it was more attractive and easier to digest, but I felt a huge surge of imposter syndrome and also indignation on behalf of the original authors. 

My version would not have existed without the months of hard work that had gone into the original set of academic theories that it was based upon. Researchers had spent a year reviewing papers, running workshops, interviewing, and developing a complex set of theories. Hearing that people ‘prefer’ the Easy Read felt uncomfortable and irrelevant. 

My document was a summary of theories about Individual Service Funds, created by researchers at the EQUALD project: 

Someone in the meeting where this was all being discussed likened this to being able to observe the effects of gravity, whilst not being able to see gravity itself. A perfect analogy! Simplified information hides many months of work that precede it, but would not exist without it.  

I joked earlier about the delete key - it is not really about that. The real skill is to quickly and thoroughly understand a specialist topic. The source material could be a 10-year strategy for a council department, or a piece of research, or some clinical advice. It is helpful to not be an expert in the field. A ‘fresh pair of eyes’ pushes you closer to the viewpoint of the reader, who I usually assume has no prior knowledge of the topic. A deep (but recent) understanding helps me to confidently prioritise, emphasise and delete information. 

Complexity is not a bad thing - far from it! I believe that researchers, strategists and clinicians must be free to think and to write using a style and vocabulary which most effectively helps them to develop their thinking. Specialist, complex language can enable creativity and innovation, acting as scaffolding for experts in a particular discipline to communicate and build on nuanced ideas. Easy Read can then offer a window into these niche topics that may not normally be accessible for most people.  

So next time you need to save some time, and you opt for ‘Easy Read’ or ‘plain English’, assume that this was just the final step in a very long process. It would not exist at all without that brilliantly long, complex, original version. 

23 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page