Want to make your writing more effective? Stop substituting “things” in place of what you really want to say.
How many times have we read an email along these lines:
“Hey, have a few things I need to discuss. Let’s meet.”
This simple email, meant in the best of intentions, is not getting at the essence of being concise. You may have heard of the three sentences (and sometimes five sentences) movement in email correspondence. The belief being that time is valuable, email is slightly outdated but still finds wide usage, and the solution is to keep statements brief.
In fact, I argue this “brief” example asks more questions than it answers.
Google says this about the definition of “brief”:
of short duration, a concise statement.
By definition, being brief should include being “concise,” which means:
brief but comprehensive, a lot of information in just a few words.
Weaving past the circular linguistic logic, we come to this idea of choosing specific words that describe whatever it is you might need to discuss.
“Hey, can we meet to talk about the Goodyear Blimp and that order of twelve elephants? I gotta go over budgeting and strategy with you.”
Bam. Simple yes or no response is all that is required and everyone knows what’s at stake before the meeting begins. That meeting will be faster, and the goals of that meeting more actionable (gotta transport those elephants somehow), all because the person writing the email choose to write concisely and effectively.
Even fiction and screenwriters can use this tip to pack the maximum amount of information possible into every line. I love Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner, but they drone on and on don’t they? Is Stephen King paid by the word? Who knows. What we do know is that a writer like Chuck Palahniuk can conjure similar mental imagery in fewer words. Not better, just concise.
For more on this subject, read Umberto Eco’s Six Walks in the Fictional Woods and then come talk to me over some whiskey.
Go forth and save written correspondence from itself.