Clarity and brevity: why less is more, but more feels safer.

I’m working on a project at the moment around a pretty simple topic, it’s an interesting subject, but not complex. The challenge is to get people to do something differently. Not hugely differently, but a little differently. But, for some reason, we’re taking over seven thousand words to say it.

We introduce the subject, set a context, try to position it in relation to all the other things that are happening in the organisation, we show people how to do it, give examples, all the things that get said and done when we write training, but when push comes to shove, it could all be said more clearly in fewer words. So why do we write so much?

I guess it’s partly habit and partly the desire for everyone to feel that we are doing something worthwhile. We feel that we need to justify ourselves through complexity and volume. We also find that when lots of people need to review and sign things off, everyone put in a bit more volume for safety. After all, you rarely get told off for being too comprehensive.

But if we look across to our habits of consumption or our social experience, we prefer efficiency in communication: headlines, tweets, status updates, or where we go for length, such as with a good book, we look for great writing. Businesses often miss both of these criteria: it’s too long and nowhere near interesting or engaging enough. To be honest, it’s pretty hard to write seven thousands words of engaging text at the best of times, let alone when the subject doesn’t warrant it.

It’s also easy to treat other people as though they don’t ‘get it’ as fast as we do. Often though the reason why people don’t do things we want them to do is nothing to do with whether they ‘get it’, but rather to do with either apathy or simply not seeing the benefit, and benefit is something that needs to be apparent, not just told to people.

It’s worth examining any project we are working on to see if we could do the job better if it were shorter and more simple. Not all problems require lengthy solutions. Some things are just simple, if we are brave enough to stand up and say it.

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About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Clarity, Effectiveness, Information, Learning, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Clarity and brevity: why less is more, but more feels safer.

  1. Pingback: Clear stories | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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