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The Power of Brevity

It usually takes us far more time to write a short speech than a long one – and we’re professional writers. Same with our editing process: more eyes on a document means more time, but it tends to turn out much shorter – and much stronger – than the original.

One of the hallmarks of effective communication is brevity – using the “fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning,” as George Orwell defined it.

For an old principle, brevity performs unusually well in the new media environment. Tweet character limits. GIF memes. Information saturation. There may be infinite space online to opine, but in today’s communications climate, simplicity is beating the tar out of the competition. Less is more, even to the point of oversimplification.

Brevity remains a cornerstone of both political messaging and corporate advertising. Slogans are seldom longer than a single sentence (if you wish to be remembered, that is). “Make America Great Again” … “Yes We Can” … “I Have a Dream” … “I Like Ike” … “Just Do It” … “I’m Lovin’ It.” Of course, not all short slogans work, but they often snag your attention anyway, just by cutting through the noise.

These words work because they are short, simple, and aspirational. All message, no clutter. We’ve all heard a weather forecaster tell us that there’s a “high probability that we will experience some precipitation inbound from a high-pressure system out West” when it would’ve been enough to say, “take an umbrella.”

As editors, we’re forever striking out phrases such as: “It’s important to point out …” and “we all know that …” and “it’s important to keep in mind.” These words muffle the point. Decide what’s essential, get straight to it, and say it memorably. It’s the highest compliment you can pay your audience.

The single mom – who rises early every morning to make breakfast for the kids, takes them to school, heads to work, juggles endless tasks, picks them up again after work, makes dinner, and helps them with homework – doesn’t usually wait for the sixth paragraph of a form letter for a response to an issue that she’s telling you matters to her.

The line cook – working two jobs, seven days a week, just to make ends meet – doesn’t often sift through a labyrinthine corporate website looking for a clear position on a policy that makes a meaningful difference to him.

Take your stand. And if you’re lucky enough to capture their attention – no matter the platform – make it count.

American time is more valuable than money; most of us have too little of both, but it’s time that can’t be replaced. That’s why we want products and services that are hassle-free. It’s why simplicity and efficiency dominate marketing. And it’s why audiences tune out so quickly when a speaker starts to waffle.

Whether you’re publishing for yourself or on behalf of your company, do yourself a favor: run it by a good editor. Don’t fear the strikethrough. Choose brevity.

Ayobami Olugbemiga is a communications advisor at Luntz Global.