I wanted to start this post with the quote “I’m sorry this is so long. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” Turns out that has been attributed to a lot of people, starting with Blaise Pascal in 1657 and including Benjamin Franklin in 1750.
That means that for at least 350 years people have known that it’s harder to write a short and concise letter or document than a long one. Twitter aside, that is still true.
Here are some tips from writing consultant Mary Cullen at 87 advanced tips for business writing:
- Purpose: Before you start, ask “who is my reader” and “what do I want them to know or do?” If you don’t have an answer, there’s no purpose for continuing.
- Plan: For a standard business document or email, spend about half of the time planning and half of the time writing.
- Everyday language. Avoid jargon. Never use a big word when a small word will do.
- Clear language. Use strong verbs (“We need to decide”… is better than “we need to make a decision”…) Any time a word is not truly needed, cut it.
Cullen says that online readers can only handle about 7 lines of text before readability goes down and they are more likely to skip it. Adding headers, lists, and white space can help – as in the paragraph above.
As leaders, we can feel too busy to edit. But taking the time to remove extra words and present a clear message can save time in the long run. People will actually read what we send and are more likely to get the point!
Dee Anne Bonebright