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The virtue of brevity in writing

June 26, 2017

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Photo: Au_tiger01 (CC)

Write tight.

It’s a skill that pays off repeatedly. And it wins audiences over for respecting their time and their attention span.

Journalists learn that skill through trial and error. Those on the print side write captions, headlines, briefs, teasers and other teeny morsels where a few words must convey as much as possible. Those on the broadcast side write scripts that must hit short time limits, plus chyrons (the onscreen labels) that appear for a few seconds.

Bloggers face no such restrictions. Armed with unlimited real estate, they ramble to their hearts’ content. Pity the poor reader who stumbles into a thicket of asides and unformed thoughts.

Brevity isn’t the happy accident of a taut first draft. It’s the rigorous application of a writer’s least favorite tasks: editing and revising. Editing asks what can go and what doesn’t belong in the first place. It also interrogates each sentence for meaning and clarity. Revising forces us to take what we think is a perfectly fine turn of phrase and try again (and harder, dammit).

It’s OK to be wordy in that first draft. Better to embrace flow than to stumble over starts and stops.

We see our writing, faults and all, more clearly through the process of editing and revising. We learn how to get to the point quicker. And that helps us in media new (memes, tweets, hashtags) and old (bumper stickers, billboards, commercials).

The old 5 B’s rule for speeches applies to writing: Be brief, brother, be brief.

Poynter: “How I stopped worrying and learned to murder my darlings”

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