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Writing, the long and short of it all

Posted on 24th August 2009 in Insight, Interesting Stuff
Written by: Jen Dugdale

George Bernard Shaw once ended a letter to a friend with, “I’m sorry this is such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

The fact of the matter is, it is far easier to ‘write short’ than it is to ‘write long’ – and it is more skilful. To write a short piece, one must think about and plan structure, style and content. Then read, edit and revise your copy. And then go back and read, edit and revise it all over again!

Something that often adds to the unnecessary length of a piece, and good writers should learn NOT to do, is use Tautology, or ‘saying the same thing twice.’ And here are a few great examples: New innovation – surely all innovations are new? Free gift – aren’t all gifts given freely? Dead corpse – says it all!

And use shorter words rather than longer ones. Winston Churchill famously coined the phrase “terminological inexactitude” in place of “lie” and all too often writers over-elaborate their copy because they want to stress the importance of the point they are trying to make but all they do is add confusion for the reader. This example, read in an instructional book recently, had me in tears; why use Example A, when Example B will do!

Example A – It cannot be stated too strongly that if the present circumstances are allowed to continue there is no question that the company will fail to make a profit in the current fiscal period.

Example B – At present, the company is heading for a loss this financial year.

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