Concise communication is an indispensable tool for helping others easily understand your ideas. In this post, I’ll discuss how concision helps convey meaning and unburdens your audience.
I tweet to 125. With all my tweets, they’re 125 characters … And not only that, I do not say ‘lol’, and I don’t use the letter ‘u’ when I mean ‘you’. I spell that sucker out. I feel like Michelangelo when I have this many words and it has to become a tweet, because what I do is carve away that which is not the tweet that I want to post. And what remains is the essence of the thought that might have taken more space to communicate.
Novel ideas, by definition, are hazily defined. It’s worth the effort to hone and articulate these ideas because expressing them in their shortest form removes any distractions. Don’t make your audience parse unclear language when they’re already preoccupied with the task of internalizing a new idea.
In a previous post, I discussed the need to treat others’ time with respect. The same idea applies here: Treat the attention of your audience like the scarce resource it is.
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
-William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White, Elements of Style
Elements of Style coined the autological phrase, “omit needless words”. However, it also teaches us to balance our desire for concision against the need to convey meaning. Think of your words as parts in an efficient information-conveying machine. The machine still needs to perform its original job, but every extra part adds weight.
My favorite pieces of concise writing come from Abraham Lincoln. For example, take the Gettysburg Address, wherein Lincoln summarizes the purpose and historical context of the American Civil War in just three short paragraphs.
Lincoln’s second inaugural address is another impressive piece:
The most astonishing sentence I think he ever wrote is in the middle of the second inaugural address … He talks about the coming of the war and there’s this one sentence ‘and the war came’, and it just hangs there. You think about people in March of 1865 listening to this man’s ‘and the war came’. The entire horror of the war is contained in those words and it’s stunning, the command of English. You don’t add any adjectives. You don’t add anything more than that.
I hope this post has given you a useful lens through which to view your own writing. The next time you sit down to write a social media post, email or résumé, consider making your communication clearer with concision.