“If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter.”

You’ve likely heard a variation of this quote, though nobody is quite sure who originally expressed the sentiment. What we do know is that great thinkers, from Locke to Franklin and Thoreau to Cicero, have all expounded on the work that goes into being concise and the huge impact it can have.

Knowing how to distill ideas into their clearest and most compact form can transform your work and interactions.

Being concise doesn’t just mean being brief. Instead, it involves being focused, accurate, and mindful of your audience. Whether working on a presentation, a social media campaign, or an email to a colleague, it could be the difference between persuading someone to act and leaving them confused and underwhelmed.

Here are a few strategies for mastering concise communication and overcoming the fears that lead to superfluousness.

Writing With Concision

When George Orwell wrote the opening to 1984, ‘’It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” he knew he only had a few words to pull readers in. A longer explanation of the strangeness at play wouldn’t have been as instantly intriguing.

Short but loaded statements, whether Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be” or Nike’s “Just do it,” stick in the collective consciousness. Like poetry, they are captivating because of the huge amount of meaning contained in a few well-chosen words.

Concision is a practical tool as well as an artistic one. Copywriters know the importance of a good headline to entice a reader, with a powerful call to action to send them off in the right direction.

Wasting time on unnecessary words can quickly lose someone’s attention.
the power of being concise in writing

Why Being Concise Matters for Business

Whether you’re a marketer, designer, engineer, or CEO, concision is a skill that could overhaul your professional interactions. It’s a key part of effective workplace communication, something which has a substantial impact on productivity, success, and even employee retention.

Here are just a few of the benefits it can provide:

  • Reducing misunderstandings: If you explain your needs clearly – nothing more nor less – people are less likely to misinterpret them or accidentally skip over key information. Being concise and precise go hand in hand.
  • Saving time: If someone can interpret what you mean immediately, they won’t waste time with follow-up questions, allowing for quicker action.
  • Motivating and empowering people: Giving clear and actionable input yields greater accountability and ownership. There’s nothing more demotivating than the state of limbo that comes with unclear feedback.

being concise at work

Being concise is also a highly transferable skill. It can make you a far more effective communicator across many different contexts:

  • Internal Communication: A colleague might set aside a longer message because they anticipate having to spend more time unpacking the salient points. Sending your colleague a short but considered response, however, increases the likelihood of them reading it right away.
  • Presentations and Meetings: A laser-focused presentation will grab an audience’s attention and keep them invested.
  • Subject-Lines and Titles: Concision is a huge part of creating e-mail subject lines that work. That’s just as true for internal mail as it is for outbound email marketing campaigns. Can you distill your tl;dr into a short phrase? It’s an art.
  • Feedback: Streamlining your feedback makes it far more comprehensible and approachable. Taking time to refine your input may also help you think of nuances and interpretations that you might not have otherwise considered. Concision is empathy.

What’s Stopping You?

Being concise doesn’t always come naturally. There are many reasons for this, but they often involve anxiety over how your audience will perceive you.

Too Much to Say

A crucial deterrent is the fear of not explaining yourself properly. It’s easy to revert to circumlocution as you try to cover every angle of a topic. You’re concerned that your audience might miss a critical piece of information.

Ironically, by trying to cover all your bases, you may confuse them instead. By giving people too many ideas to focus on, you can overwhelm them and prevent them from grasping the critical points.

Less is Rude?

There’s the possible concern that short comments could sound brusque and abrupt. If someone has spent a significant amount of time on a task or a message, it seems dismissive to send a short reply.

If you view being concise as respecting a colleague’s time and energy though, you may find it much less of a struggle. Nobody likes having orders barked at them, but they do appreciate having a quick and clear view of your thoughts.

I’d Be More Concise, But…

The biggest challenge to being concise might just be that it takes a lot more time and intentionality. Saying more is often easier than weighing each word.

To quote Benjamin Franklin, “I have already made this paper too long, for which I must crave pardon, not having now time to make it shorter.”

power of being concise

How to Be More Concise

So, how do you manage to be concise without missing out on key context or alienating the people around you? Here are 7 guiding principles to rely on as you tread that tightrope.

  1. Choose your words carefully: A concise message isn’t sparse and generalized, it needs to condense your point. It’s not simply about using as few words as possible, you need to pick the best words and let them do their job.
  2. Take your time: A well-crafted, short message may well take you longer but you’re saving time further down the line. It also becomes faster with practice.
  3. Be clear on your message: Ask yourself specific questions about what you really need to say and what relevant information is essential for someone to understand it.
  4. Get rid of empty phrases: This was one of our tips for improving your writing technique and it’s particularly important here. Ask yourself whether the reader needs a word or phrase. Would removing it sacrifice the meaning or tone?
  5. Know your audience:  Ask yourself what your audience specifically needs to know, how they’ll be feeling when they read the message, and what you want them to take away.
  6. Be mindful of your tone: Eliminating words often strips the warmth out of a message and it can be tempting to add bland platitudes back in to humanize it. Instead, the Grammarly team suggests prioritizing active and positive language, reading the message aloud to yourself, and… using punctuation to show your enthusiasm!
  7. Make use of tools: Tools can’t do all the work for you, but they can provide invaluable support. Grammarly can help you sharpen your sentences, while a tool like ReviewStudio provides a precise and clear visual medium for feedback, reducing the need for detailed written or verbal explanations.

Saying More Through Less

Being concise could help you connect far more effectively. It reduces confusion, mental load, and the time someone needs to spend digesting what you said. It can also produce messages which are more engaging and thought-provoking for your audience.

Real concision takes time, care, and practice – you need to hone your message until it says exactly what you need it to.

If you make that investment, it will pay off.

Editors note: I should note that the first draft of this post was over 1,700 words. Apologies for the lengthy read, but we simply did not have the time to make it shorter.

Proofing by ReviewStudio

For Better Feedback and Faster Approvals

Simplify your creative workflows with a fast and intuitive way to collect and consolidate feedback on a wide range of digital media content. Markup files, assign tasks, track approvals, compare versions and much more.

Start Trial