“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
– Blaise Pascal, (1623-1662) Lettres provincials
It would appear the challenge or writing concise communications has been with us for a long time.
Today, shorter copy is needed more than ever. Just look at the success of Twitter, the “ultimate” short copy communications platform. Messages are mostly limited to 140 characters per tweet, requiring a new mastery of short communications.
- Too many examples – When presenting complex topics, the inclusion of examples to help explain a concept is sometimes necessary. If your objective is to teach, then providing more content may be right; in a business communication, perhaps it might better to offer a link or source for an example that already exists.
- Too long an introduction – Perhaps your topic or challenge being solved is complex, or there are different nuances to the business challenge, and you need to be sure to explain what variation you are solving, requiring a longer introduction. I can’t think of a shortcut here, other than trying to condense your topic down to a paragraph or less.
- Too many industry buzz words – This is tough when seeking to improve Search Engine Optimization. The more industry terms, the better your chance of showing up higher on Google. Links to other web pages might help address this challenge.
- Too many editors – This is a tough one. Often I have two or more stakeholders invested in my document with different points that must be included. More time to perform more edits is the solution, but, sometimes deadlines contradict this goal.
- Too worried about missing a key point – When tasked with writing an important document, such as a business plan, as they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Considerable care must be taken to be sure all relevant points are included. Keeping a prioritized list can help address this challenge; if a point has already been made, perhaps it doesn’t require duplication in a later section. Alternatively, future communications can be added to address omissions.
In the end, the path to shorter copy is to spend more time … time planning to identify the most concise wording, and time writing more efficiently using shorter phrases that are edited several times. In the end, your goal is to make a lasting impression – getting your content read and understood – which is simply easier with a shorter message.*
*Note the first version of this post exceeded 700 words; final version has 450.
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.