My colleague Karl Krayer teaches eight principles in his sessions on writing skills. One principle is this: economize words. It is a valuable principle.
I recently took some Q&A. The last question was asked by a guy in the front row. He said “What’s your take on the true value of a university education?” I shared my general opinion (summary: great socially, but not realistic enough academically) and ended with a description of a course I’d like to see taught in college. In fact, I’d like to teach it.
It would be a writing course. Every assignment would be delivered in five versions: A three page version, a one page version, a three paragraph version, a one paragraph version, and a one sentence version.
I don’t care about the topic. I care about the editing. I care about the constant refinement and compression. I care about taking three pages and turning it one page. Then from one page into three paragraphs. Then from three paragraphs into one paragraph. And finally, from one paragraph into one perfectly distilled sentence.
Along the way you’d trade detail for brevity. Hopefully adding clarity at each point. This is important because I believe editing is an essential skill that is often overlooked and under appreciated. The future belongs to the best editors.
I do think this is right; good; useful.
On the other hand, the details matter too. “You’d trade detail for brevity,” said Fried. Yes, you would. So, study the writing of both Michael Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell. I think they both have learned how to provide great detail, with few words.
So – learn what Fried suggests, then work on getting detail back in, in few words. Economize words, even in your details.
And remember this from Frank Luntz. Provide the “perfectly distilled sentence.” Then the one-page executive summary. Then, for those who want more, in a click away, provide the three pages of details:
(A Luntz Lesson) The number one priority: information. More is better than less. Details are better than generalities. Comprehensive is better than simplistic. Long term is better than immediate… Summarize the material for those who want to read less, but provide the fine print for those who want to know more.
(from What Americans REALLY WANT…REALLY: The Truth about our Hopes, Dreams, and Fears)