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Short-form writing demands clarity

I’m obsessed with writing short. And not because I’ve got very little to say, but rather, because I realize that today’s lightning-paced lifestyles demand brevity. In our constant rush to text, tweet, email or blog our latest news, however, clarity cannot be sacrificed. And therein lies the rub.

Today more than ever, brevity and clarity must work in tandem to grab a reader’s attention and deliver something in return. Word choices matter, but choosing the right words takes time.

To gain deeper insight into short-form writing, I picked up Roy Peter Clark’s book, How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times. The book is chock-full of potent reminders of the power of vivid, purposeful short writing, from 140-character tweets to 300-word blogs. We’ve all heard the idiom, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but Clark’s message that “a few good words can be worth a thousand pictures,” really resonates with me.

We can, indeed, draw pictures (and stir emotions) with our words just as we can with a paintbrush and canvas. When space is limited – as in a headline, tweet or email subject line – we have less (not lesser) artistic media with which to create. Each word must work harder and shine brighter to achieve our desired outcome, whether it’s to deliver a singular, brief message or to open a gateway to longer prose.

Since reading Clark’s book I’ve been paying closer attention to examples of short writing and examining what worked and what fell flat. Did an article summary or headline compel me to read the full text? Did an advertising slogan make me stop and take notice? Or were the words a meaningless jumble amid a message that was vague or confusing?

In short writing, there is no room for ambiguity, clichés or metaphors that require readers to dig deep for our meaning. Short forms of writing must deliver a message that is on point. Right now.

My latest obsession has certainly heightened my awareness of the importance of word choices in today’s communications. When space and time are in short supply, our words have tall orders to fill.

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