Monday Mornings with Madison

To the Point: The Power of Being Concise

In a world where knowledge is power and information rules, there is a growing push to share ever more messages with others.  Sales and marketing teams are focused on more ways to ‘get the word out’.  Newsletters.  Eblasts.  Websites.  Magazines.  Advertisements.  Journals.  Handbooks.  Pocket Guides.  Articles.  Press Releases.  Tips.  Search engines compound the problem by rewarding the generation of ever more content.  But it doesn’t stop with sales and marketing efforts.  Leaders are also intent on communicating their mission and focus to their staff, customers and investors.  Fireside chats.  Letters from the President.  State of the Company Addresses.  Strategy Sessions.  Annual Reports.  There is just so much to say.  Talk… talk… talk.  Words abound.

With so much focus on generating real and valuable information, showcasing expertise and sharing vision, businesses have adopted a ‘more is more’ approach to communication.  More touch points.  More words.  Why use two words when you can write twenty?  Why express in two minutes what can be said in said in a video in ten?  Why send one communication when you can send five?  Why publish a short blog post when the same information can be explained in a more detailed article?  Indeed, what is noticeably absent in all that chatter is brevity.  Lost is the art of being succinct.  Yet, there is power in being concise.  When it comes to business communication, sometimes less is more.  So when is it best to be brief and why?  And is it possible to be economical with words without being terse?

First, it is important to understand that one can be succinct without sacrificing the detail or depth of a message.  Brevity is not the opposite of eloquence.  A message can be powerful and persuasive, and also concise.  Often what accounts for rambling messages is the desire to impress by padding the main point with overstatements and blather.

Second, conciseness is not the enemy of politeness.  There is no need to be rude to be brief.  It is definitely possible to be pleasant and succinct.  In fact, courtesy is one of the basics of good communication.  As the saying goes, ‘you attract more flies with honey than vinegar.’

But why aim for brevity in business communications?  After all, search engines, especially Google, reward quantity of content, not quality.  And with so much competition to break through all the chatter, wouldn’t the more-is-more not only be necessary, but also best?  Not really.  There are two good reasons to be concise.

First, communicating a point in few words shows a clear understanding of its essence.  Concise writing is more difficult to generate than long-winded treatises.  For those looking to demonstrate expertise, brevity is key.

Second and more importantly, busy people are irritated at having to read lots of words with little meaning.  Fluff pieces – like cotton candy – may look pretty but are nutritionally void and ultimately unfulfilling when consumed.  This can irritate the audience.  Irritating potential customers is not good marketing.  Like doctors, companies should first seek to ‘do no harm’ to the connection between the client and the company.   That may explain why slogans are so impactful and memorable.  Their power lies in their brevity.

8 Tips for Brevity in Business Communication

Omit needless words.

Be confident that making a point in five words is acceptable.  No need to use ten words if five can do the job.

Weak:  We need to have a meeting in the next week to discuss what has been accomplished thus far and identify what goals to target next in the project.

Better:  Let’s meet this week to review progress and set new goals.

The statement was reduced from 28 words to 11.

Avoid repetition

Saying something once is sufficient.  Restating is a sign of insecurity in the strength or value of the sentence.

Weak:  “We are really looking forward to working with your company in the establishment of this joint venture.  We are very excited about this opportunity.”

Better:  “We look forward to establishing a joint venture with your company.”

The statement was reduced from 24 words to 11.

Do not overstate.

Overstating is common cause of long-winded communication.

Weak:  “Should you have any questions or concerns, I am available.  Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.”

Better:  “Please contact me with questions or concerns.”

The statement was reduced from 20 words to 7.

Cut out vague words or unnecessary connectors.

Some words add meaning.  Some don’t.  Words such as “basically” and “actually” add no value to most sentences.  Neither do phrases such as “in fact”, “it seems”, and “as I said”.   Eliminate prepositions also when possible.  Cut out all but essential words.

Weak:  The process of applying for a line of credit linked to your home’s equity is an easy one.

Better:  The home equity line of credit application process is simple.

The statement was reduced from 18 words to 10.

Start with a strong subject or action.

Sentences that begin with ‘it’ or ‘there’ are weak.  Start sentences with a key subject or action first.

Weak:  “There is a lot of evidence that our customers like to place their orders through our round-the-clock online customer service center instead of over the phone.”

Better:  “Our customers prefer to place their orders using our 24/7 website than by phone.”

The statement was reduced from 28 words to 15.

Weak:  “It is never too early for you to start preparing your financial records for the upcoming tax season.”

Better:  “Start preparing your financial records now for the tax season ahead!”

The statement was reduced from 18 words to 11.

Use a single word instead of a group of words.

A dictionary and thesaurus can help.

Weak:  He was hired due to the fact that he has a wealth of experience that is on point.

Better:  He was hired because of his ample, relevant experience.

Here is another example.

Weak:  We will not be hiring additional staff at this point in time.

Better:  We won’t be hiring additional staff now.


Punctuation can also help to reduce words.

Weak:  Due to the fact that the printer ceased functioning prior to our completion of the project reports, we requested of the contracting party at that point in time that they convey a functioning printer to our offices as soon as possible.

Better:  Our printer broke while printing the reports.  We’ve asked the vendor to deliver a replacement printer immediately.

The statement was reduced from 41 words to 17.

Edit.  Edit again.

Concise writing takes time. It helps to make several drafts before the final version.   Focus on reducing the length with each revision.

Be Polite.

After revising and reducing a communication to its key points, read it once more to ensure it is polite.  Often, adding simple words such as please and thank you to a request, or a word or two of recognition, will change a terse statement to a pleasant one.

Weak:  I want you to send the report to Mr. Smith immediately!

Better:  Please send Mr. Smith the report now.  Thank you.

The statement was reduced from 11 words to 9 and is polite.

Final advice.  In this instance, do as we say and not as we do.  At over 1000 words, this essay uses way too many words to express what boils down to one point:  For clear and powerful messages, be concise.  At last, brevity.

Quote of the Week

“The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words.” George Eliot

© 2012, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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