Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Brevity

One of my favorite quotations has been attributed to a number of people including Mark Twain, but likely originated with the French mathematician Blaise Pascal, who concluded a written communication with a friend like this: “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I did not have time to make it shorter.” Pascal recognized both the importance and the difficulty of what authors and editors now call “writing tight.” In other words, organize your thoughts, present them without extraneous words, and move on. That takes time and effort, but although long letters and unhurried conversations are nice, when the person on the other end is pressed for time, such effort is appreciated.

In both business and social situations, brevity is a valued commodity. Twitter limits “tweets” to 140 characters—not words, but characters. Facebook gives a bit more leeway, allowing up to 420 characters before the message spills over requiring clicking “more.” Unfortunately, there’s no limit on the amount of material that can be included in an email or a blog post—sometimes I wish there were.

The point, of course, is that most of us are running as fast as we can just to keep up. If I send you a long, involved, rambling email, it may well end up being ignored or deleted unread. On the other hand, if I take a moment to organize my thoughts and send a short email or text message, that one’s more likely to get your attention. And if you know I’m considerate of your time, you will probably read the next communication I send, as well.

The same can be said, of course, of blog posts. In case anyone’s counting, this one is just shy of 300 words.

What do you think? Is brevity in communication overrated...or underutilized?

NOTE TO COMMENTERS ON CANDACE CALVERT'S GUEST POSTContest closes at noon Central time today. I'll post the name of the winner here on Friday. 


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