|Gary Cooper, as Howard Roark in the Fountainhead.|
Gary Cooper was the strong, silent type. When it comes to writing it is almost always better to use fewer words to express a thought rather than more. This is especially true in business writing and the same can be said for spoken presentations. That is not to say that one should haphazardly remove words, or force sentences to their minimum lengths, but a well thought out paragraph should remove extraneous phases and redundancies. As all things ultimately relate to Seinfeld; this is not a suggestion simply to gloss over the body of the story…
|Did Elaine just yada yada the best part? No she mentioned the bisque.|
But this takes some time and thought, as does improving anything, and that is why it seems to seldom happen in business correspondence. To illustrate, below are some of my favorite quotes on the subject:
Thomas Jefferson quipped, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
Blaise Pascal said (in French), “I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”
This last historical example I present is not only clever, but ironic. In Hamlet, Polonius states that “brevity is the soul of wit” in an exceptionally long winded explanation as to why the Prince is mad. The Queen then interjects, “More matter, with less art.” Quite possibly the most elegant way to say, “Get on with it,” that I have ever come across.
If I can be indulged a final personal example, I was working with an engineer on faucet specification. Exciting, no? There was a major difference between the faucet the Owner suggested (Faucet A) and the type we typically use (Faucet B). First I received a ten minute phone call from the engineer explaining why Faucet B was specified by them in the first place and how it was more appropriate for use in this case. Then the same engineer sent me the product cut sheets along with a very lengthy email further explaining the situation. My task was to distill all this information to get a final decision from the Owner.
I was able to shave 1/3 of the word count from the original engineer generated email and send it to the owner for a value-based decision. I believe it was clear, concise and yet courteous. I actually got a note back from the engineer thanking me for sending out the question because, as he put it, my correspondence was what he was trying to say in his head, it just wasn’t coming out that way.
The Gettysburg Address contained 270 words, roughly 200 less than this article. Lincoln’s Address was not the only speech in Gettysburg that day. Edward Everett gave a two hour eulogy prior to Lincoln’s two minute talk and yet no one remembers the former’s content.
For the record, the owner responded the way we hoped he would and used only nine words to do so.
This post is part of the ArchiTalks series where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is “Communication” and was led by Brian Paletz. A lot of other talented writers who also are architects are listed below and are worth checking out:
Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Communication and the Question of Relevance