Brevity is often important


An astute observation readers always make about my writing here is that it’s accurate, witty, and with a degree of brevity that would make the most time-poor worker’s head spin with possibilities about all the disparate activities such compact prose frees them to do. When those aforementioned readers ask how I impart such wit, brilliance, and sophistication in so few words, I answer with a response containing impactful references to the Commodore 128, Hololive, and that time I accidentally fell down a flight of stairs because my crush was coming the other way.

I belabour this succinct, terse point of short, clarifying brevity to mention, impart, and advocate for the position that everyone’s writing is unique. We have different audiences, mediums, motives, artistic direction, style, and voice. Being prescriptive for specific use cases is fine, but I treat any claim of a universal truth for writing with skepticism. Here be dragons, as my favourite high school English teacher Ms Gravina used to say in response to such advice.

Which leads us to this article on why brevity is important, and how it’s bugged me every time I see it recommended to aspiring writers on Twitter. I fear people are taking its message as rote, or are being discouraged.

The writer also doesn’t heed his own advice. He identifies “waffle” (mmm, waffles) in his introduction by striking out words, but then runs afoul (mmm, chicken waffles) of Skitt’s Law:

Regardless of industry, audience or approach, all successful content exercises extreme brevity is brief.

[Will] Do you really think someone is going to sit and read a[n] 2000 word essay on a topic that could be summed up in a paragraph? Of course they’re not [No]. They’re going to go [They’ll visit] to the website or publication that has covered the story in as the few[est] words as possible.

Is that true? I’ll take a detailed explanation with diagrams over a brief, terse summary when learning a new concept.

People are busy. They don’t want to waste time reading your fluff. That fluff might make your article sound nice [thank you!], but it distracts from the main point of your article and bores your readers.

Is that true either? Brevity is the soul of wit, depending on audience and purpose. But not always.

Impactful copy always gets to the point. Its author has ignored the desire to waffle, they’ve trimmed every last piece of fat ensuring [has ensured] the only words left are those that have [with] meaning.

“Impactful” also bugs me; it borders on synergistic meta-linguistic paradigm shifts. The large, empty website banner and redundant header image also took two spacebar hits to dismiss, but that’s more to do with the wasteful nature of modern web design. He also employs filler words like “really”, and repeats himself with a “featured download” within the text, having told us not to.

Clarity is important. I aim to be succinct in my technical writing, documentation, diagrams, compliance forms, etc. There’s joy in realising prose can be removed when explaining a concept, just as one can remove refactored or redundant code.

But such advice isn’t universal, and can be harmful. Clarity is beautiful, but so is a bit of fun. Or should I say, I endeavour to engage in levity in order to inject some amusement and personality into the prose for which I derive such joy typing. I’ve read so many whitepapers, and been to so many webinars and online industry events in the last few months, and the ones I remember weren’t the briefest.

I’d hate for people to come away from articles like that thinking they need to remove personality to reduce their word count by 5%. That’s what I worry about when experts pitch blanket advice. Maybe that’s due to my impactful morning encounter with a cyclist.

Author bio and support


Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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