Brevity Is Beautiful

Kick ass explanation, bro.

I could send you a text file of one my recent summarizes so that you may read and probably be inclined enough to post it in your website since it is mainly about language, and methods of extrapolation said subject.

(Made an article about English. Will send .txt if interested. Permission granted to publish it here, if laudable enough.)

@Anon: Thanks for the note! Currently I’m not doing guest posts, but I’m happy to give feedback on the article if you send it along. I’m still working out a good way to have a reader contribution area for the site :).

Well stated. Recommended: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

It’s time to present The Lifetime Achievement Award for Bad Writing. The envelope please!

And the winners are: Academic Journals, where oracles of obfuscation peddle their padded piffle as if it truly represented deep insight.

@Millard: I can’t say I disagree :). Sometimes official writing tries to sound important by obfuscating the message, using 2-dollar words, etc.

This is one of my favorite posts! I love the quote by Pascal. I think about it every time I finish writing an email to someone.

@Jeff: Glad you enjoyed it! Yes, brevity is one of those subtle things you only notice when it’s gone :).

This discussion makes me reflect on information theory and Claude Shannon’s work regarding the mathematical minimum amount of data required to communicate a message. There is a lot of data tht cn b rmvd from most messages without impacting the information content of the message. Thus we now have mp3’s and HD movies on our cell phones. Thanks Claude!

How I wish I could stop “padding”, but unfortunately, that is what the market (boss, professor/client) often demands! :frowning:

@Dinakarr: Agreed – if you don’t own the final result, sometimes the effort is in convincing the client it’s “ok”.

[…] I do agree with the art of brevity and cutting out those vampire words, it comes to a point where you question everything you write, […]

As usual very nice post kalid.

[…] the previous piece on incorporating foreign phrases, I came across this very neat article on Betterexplained, on concise communication. Verbosity in speech and writing is one of my pet peeves, even if I am […]

@virgo: Thanks!

I really enjoyed this read. One thing that struck me was the little emphasis on why teachers ask for lengthy reports or why, at some companies, more verbose code is preferred: Experience & Knowledge.

The act of writing in length helps to expand a vocabulary (i.e., you have used the word “whether” 6 times-- try something new).

The act of programming allows you to become a better programmer (for the most part ;]).

For example:

words = %w(“some”,“list”,“of”,“words”)
---- Example 1 (harder to read “like English”)
string = words * " “
---- Example 2 (easier to read because the asterisk is replaced by it’s action)
string - words.join(” ")

They have the same effect. But, the expression reads very differently.

I guess I’m looking for a a reference to how being concise only works when both communicators are (a) well versed in the common language and (b) understanding what is trying to be achieved.

Just my 2 cents. Really liked the article.

Its really very nice…kisses!! But hope to see more topics regarding communication skills in future…

@Anon: Thanks for the comment :). I agree, for human / personal communication, brevity may not be the best bet (i.e., there’s a lot of subtext in speeches, persuasion, etc.). For technical/non-fiction communication, succinct clarity is usually best.

A lot of non-brevity is because the way we communicate naturally (in person) uses numerous channels at once, eg body language, intonation, and the actual words. Studies show that the actual words convey only about 7% of the information sent, AND that words are often disbelieved because they are so often used as lies. Think about it: when your girlfriend is upset, and you ask her what’s wrong, and she says, “nothing,” you know this is untrue; she’s probably mad at YOU for something you didn’t even know you did.

You are probably also aware of something called a “flamewar”, especially with Facebook. this is when a text-only conversation erupts into an argument, usually a very angry argument, and is almost always caused because one person misunderstood what the other was saying and assumed insult. A huge argument, filled with insults and hurt feelings results, and often the people involved get banned, even if they were right.

You probably also have seen in the news where someone said something perfectly innocent, like describing a bad situation that can only be made worse as being a quagmire. Frex, Vietnam was a quagmire. However, recently someone wanting to use a word other than quagmire used a synonym for it: tar-baby. And guess what? Someone who wanted to take offense did so, blew it all out of proportion, and now we have things like “political correctness” in an effort to protect ourselves from over-sensitive idiots who are in reality passive-aggressive bullies (but that’s for a different day).

The point is, context matters, and in text, you can’t convey context with body language or intonation. You often can’t even convey it with emphasis (italics or all-caps) for fear someone will accuse you of shouting and thereby miss your point.

The second big reason (and this will be much more brief) is because some of us crave clarity. Omitting description leaves room for multiple interpretations. When we’re trying to communicate things, multiple interpretations are usually NOT desired (unless we’re con artists, and then we do want our victim to misunderstand what we really want).

If I say “the asteroid is as big as a house”, that’s not very helpful. One listener may think of a small house, another may think of a large one. Who knows what the speaker actually intended?

So yes, many a time, we do inflate our explanations in order to make ourselves more important, but also many times that extra explanation IS important to conveying the meaning. (And in this case, it DOES prove how much more important I am. :slight_smile: )

Hello.This post was really motivating, particularly since I was investigating for thoughts on this matter last Monday.

@Harsh: Thanks!

Thanks Ariel!