Are You Really Being Concise?

Let’s try something. Pick an email you wrote recently and read it. Now, consider if the body of your email is concise.

The answer is not important. What is important for this experiment is the first thing you thought of when evaluating the conciseness of your text. If you are like most people, your first and probably only thought was: “Was I brief enough?”

In a world perceived primarily via mobile screens, where endless scrolling is the default, and where we are hopelessly trying to do multiple things in parallel, being brief seems like the only option. No one has time to read long emails. No one has the patience to listen to a long monologue. If you want people to read your post, email, or message, or be alert when you talk, you’d better use fewer words. Less is more, and shorter is always better. 

Except that it isn’t really. Not always. 

Here’s the thing: 

  • To communicate effectively, you must be concise. 
  • Being concise is not the same as being brief. 

Contemporary communication overemphasizes the length of the content we share, forgetting it should serve a goal. Whether we write an email, design a presentation, or create content for social media, we should first have an idea we wish to express; then, we must find the right words to convey it. When we focus on length, we often neglect meaning. The chances of our content being read might be higher, but the chances of it making an impact are practically zero.

Being concise means being comprehensive and providing the relevant or necessary information with as few words as possible. Word count is meaningless if the people on the other end don’t get your message. Unfortunately, it is easier to focus on because there is no simple answer to what makes your text comprehensive and what is considered relevant and necessary. To be concise, you must know what you want to achieve, but you must also know your audience. You must consider what knowledge they already have and what is relevant to them. You must put yourself in their shoes because what is obvious to you might be far from trivial for them. 

Being concise means taking all this information into account before you communicate. Being concise means that 1000 words might be better than 200; it means 200 words might be too much. 

The art of being concise could fill an entire book, but my goal in this post is less ambitious. I sense that these 429 words are just about right.

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