Brevity

I read somewhere* recently that reading poetry was the way to learn about brevity. That makes some sense. If a poet gets an idea across in a few words that is the essence of brevity. Brevity seems to be at the intersection between clarity of idea conveyed and fewest words (or symbols) to convey it.

It is tempting to think of brevity as being necessarily of quality but that isn’t the case. Perhaps there needs to be another word that addresses few words but lacking quality to act as a contrast. Brevity can be difficult and time consuming, which often mark quality, which may be part of the confusion.

What is the advantage of brevity? There certainly doesn’t seem to be an incentive to be brief judging by much of what is out there. Audiences appear to be paying by the word if you consider the results. This may be the exact case in business settings. Rarely do you ever hear of a massive presentation or report getting hammered. On the contrary, it seems almost unimaginable that the output by a consultancy or an internal quarterly report won’t be 75 slides. There is a safety factor in lacking brevity. More stuff means more chances that something works for the audience or can be spun to meet an objection or simply used to wear out the audience.

So why strive for brevity? Rather than a specific reward, it may be best to think of brevity as a self teaching exercise. Teaching a concept normally forces an examination of your own understanding as you try to convey that understanding to others. Brevity similarly forces coming to grips with distilling what you are trying to convey. It should strengthen your understanding or point out weaknesses to be addressed.

PS – Brevity is a personal struggle. Stripping things down in a way that reduces paragraphs to sentences and sentences to words seems wrong. Perhaps this recalls the days when hitting a word count goal was necessary for an assignment.

* I can’t remember who to attribute this to, sorry.

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