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Why We Have to Write Shorter

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Why We Have to Write Shorter image shutterstock 3213243 300x200I think someone’s trying to tell me something. Everywhere I look these days I’m being told to write shorter. And that’s advice we should all heed in this era of six-second videos and news delivered in 140 characters or less. We have to get our points across faster or risk not being heard at all.

For me the first signals came in a fabulous biography of Abraham Lincoln. His Gettysburg Address was famously short, but many of Lincoln’s other writings were equally concise in a time when “remarks” went on for hours. Another of my heroes, Winston Churchill, once said, “Not compressing thought into a reasonable space is sheer laziness.” As prime minister he refused to read any memo that was more than one typewritten page.

Churchill would have been proud of the people who wrote the corporate history on att.com. Here’s the whole thing:

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. That was the foundation of the company that would become AT&T—a brand that has become synonymous with the best, most reliable telephone service in the world.

In 1984, through an agreement between the former AT&T and the U.S. Department of Justice, AT&T agreed to divest itself of its local telephone operations but retain its long distance, R&D and manufacturing arms. From this arrangement, SBC Communications Inc. (formerly known as Southwestern Bell Corp.) was born.

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Twelve years later, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 triggered dramatic changes in the competitive landscape. SBC Communications Inc. established itself as a global communications provider by acquiring Pacific Telesis Group (1997), Southern New England Telecommunications (1998) and Ameritech Corp. (1999). In 2005, SBC Communications Inc. acquired AT&T Corp., creating the new AT&T

With the acquisition of BellSouth in 2006, and the consolidated ownership of Cingular Wireless and YP.com, AT&T is positioned to lead our industry in one of its most significant transformations since the invention of the telephone more than 130 years ago.

Several of our clients recently have re-designed their websites to scroll more and read faster. News releases are getting shorter. Social media sharing is increasingly important for companies trying to get noticed. But fewer words demands better words – ones that get to the point, clarify and motivate.

Someone, either Mark Twain or Blaise Pascal, once said something to the effect that he would have written a shorter letter if he had had more time.

We have to make the time.

Comments on this Article: 8

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  1. Justin Harris says:

    Clay,

    Your quote at the end is actually attributed most to Abraham Lincoln. I thought you were going there from the start of your post.

  2. bob says:

    Bumper sticker thinking has evolved into tweets. Effective and familiar, to manipulate a population that can’t string Thought One next to Thought Two, and for whom nuance is dead.

  3. Kelly Fox says:

    With all the smartphones and tablets floating around the content now needs to be short and concise, in order to make it easier to read. Reading web pages on a smart phone that aren’t optimised for mobile users – its near impossible!

  4. Nice Clay,
    Agree with your Points, we try to convey our massages in shorten words as much as possible.
    Thanks for nice Post.

  5. Regina says:

    Yeah, those of us at USA TODAY 30 years ago already figured this out.

  6. Arun Singh says:

    Time is ticking. “The less jam you have, the more you spread it” – Always go straight to the point when you have a precise message to give.

  7. Sani says:

    Short and sweet! A truly great writer can express his/her meaning in a few words and does not have to drag it out.

  8. Samreen M says:

    I agree with you Clay. All the points you have made and the quotes, you have cited above, are worth-noticing. Precision is recommended for many reasons: firstly because precise and concise writing makes more sense. The condensation and terseness in writing appeals more. And secondly, in this mechanical era when we are occupied by hundreds of activities, we get irritated by lengthy writings.
    Mark Twain was often asked for advice on the art and craft of writing and he always recommended short and brief sentences.
    The name of Francis Bacon is also tolling in mind for the pithy, curt and the concise style of writing. Nice post you have posted, Clay!

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