Brevity in writing

Mark Twain famously once said, “I didn't have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” It’s a favourite quote of mine, because it’s very applicable to the world of social media.

What he meant was that it’s easier to write lots of words quickly than it is to say something briefly but to the point, and with more meaning. Writing concise copy is far harder and requires more skill than writing reams and reams of words.

Many, many years ago there was an experiment where the journalists of a tabloid paper swapped jobs for a week with those from a broadsheet, to see how different their roles were and how each group fared writing for a very different audience than they were accustomed to.

You may be jumping to the conclusion that the tabloid journalists had a harder time adapting to a broadsheet paper than the other way around, but you’d be wrong. The broadsheet journalists had a far harder time adapting to the brevity that the tabloid paper needed.

They had to cut their words down, make each one count and adopt a more concise and simplistic style. The tabloid journalists, on the other hand, found it much easier expanding their copy and padding their word counts. They also had the luxury of being able to take far longer to explain a point.

The nature of social media means that posts need to be short in order to fit in the space allowed, or only use the limited number of characters that are available. Social media isn’t the place to be explaining long complex ideas, but it is the place to grab the readers’ attention just enough to get them to click on a link and take them to a website which then explains the idea, product or service in more detail.

Social posts are fighting with all the noise out there on the internet, vying for the reader’s attention as they scroll through their feed. My advice is to always focus on one message, to write the post and then see if you can remove any words. Consider each word, what it is conveying and what it brings to the party. Is it essential? If not, cut it out.

Writing concise copy takes practice and talent. Don’t underestimate the skill of crafting a Twitter post; effective social media is not a job that should be left to the most junior members of the team…