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Learning about Smart Brevity for writing

I was introduced to the idea of Axios’ Smart Brevity on the How I Built This podcast. Based on the reality that people don’t read much, the idea is writing that presents information as clearly and concisely as possible. Axios has pushed this model successfully with 200-400 word news stories that liberally use bulleted lists.

This was attractive to me, in part, because I find writing to be struggle. I want to be a good writer, but I think my voice pales in comparison to the writers that I admire. Rather than trying to match their wit or charm, perhaps I could provide value by being direct and informative.

I followed the podcast episode by watching Jim VandeHei’s TEDx talk on Smart Brevity. Here some some key points (loosely quoted):

  • On data to support this approach:
    • Nobody reads anything
    • Humans are built to keep up with so much information
    • More often than not, people who share stories haven’t read them
  • Tips for writing better:
    • Stop being selfish: Writing is self-indulgent. We don’t think about the purpose. What does the reader need to know?
    • Grab me: What is the most important thing? What is the reason that you’re writing? What is the one thing that I need to remember?
    • Keep it simple: Shorter. Simple, strong words.
    • Be human: Write like a human. We’re think we’re Walt Whitman; we try to show off with our writing. If you’re talking to someone at a bar, you’re not going to use SAT words or use acronyms.
    • Just stop: The best thing you can do in this cluttered world is give people their time back. Use as few words, in as few sentences, as humanly possible.
  • In your own mind you’ll find yourself start to think more clearly and speak more clearly.