There’s a Lot to be Said for Saying Less

Stripping Down to Brief

Every writer has heard that it’s better to be brief. Brevity improves reader engagement, clarity, retention, and more. “Brief” is hard to be, though. It requires us to draw a distinct limit around how much we say.

We must decide to say:

Here. This text is the most important message. There are other details and qualifications that are at least somewhat important, but I’m not going to state them here because I don’t want to distract from this:
[essential message]

… or, to be brief …

This is essential:
[essential message]

As shown in the examples, longer text might offer more clarification, but that clarification reduces clarity. In the shorter text, brevity drives home the message, and uses the power of the word “essential.” Thanks to the brevity of the second statement, the audience can immediately read, understand, and even remember it.

Brief is Better. How Do I Get There?

How do we put “brevity” into practice? What are the steps to writing for brevity?

  1. First of all, hunt down any redundancy. Squash it. Like the second sentence above. One might argue that “It’s reinforcing the point,” but unless it’s adding relevant information that can’t be included in the first sentence, it’s just watering things down. If the first sentence needs reinforcement, then it’s weak—rewrite it, rather than propping it up.
  2. Use headings and structure (like numbered lists!) to create a path for skimming, navigation for non-linear reading, and points for reference.
  3. Pick better terms, rather than using qualifiers. Focus on the words that are there, and use their power.
  4. Assume that your reader is about to walk away. Don’t fall into the trap of writing for yourself. Write for someone who looks like they are disengaged, and about to stop reading—you might be right.
  5. As with any writing, set it aside and come back to it later. You’ll find things you can improve.

I’ll leave it there.