June 12, 2019 |

Brevity is the soul of wit

Brevity is the soul of wit

Think giving as much information as possible helps makes you sound smarter? Think again.

In the middle of a long, bombastic speech, Polonius—the father of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet—reveals to Queen Gertrude: 

“Since brevity is the soul of wit / And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief….”

Of course, Shakespeare was having some fun there; Polonius’s speech was anything but brief and witty. But the platitude stands. 

Wit, the artful combination intellect and humor, comes down to delivery—and delivery, timing. When you can say something concisely, getting your point across in layman’s terms, and say it quickly, you’re more likely to sound smart than someone piling on jargon and inflated speech.  

Take this email for example:

Hi Jenny,

I’m writing to let you know that I received the email you sent me pertaining to the conference/business development opportunity in Maine. I think it would be a great chance to network with fellow marketers and move our initiative forward. I’m definitely interested in attending! When you get a chance, could you send me the link to the registration details?

Here’s the exact message in ⅓ the length:

Hi Jenny, 

I got your message. I would love to come to the conference! Please send me the registration link. 

Which would you rather receive? 

So next time you go to write something, ask yourself: How can I make it more concise? How many words or phrases can you take out of a sentence and still communicate the same message? Often it’s a matter of replacing words like “very tired” with “exhausted,” or “In the event of” with “If.” 

Here are some easy swaps to consider: 

  • Replace verb + adverb with stronger verb. Examples: “he ran quickly” = “he sprinted,” “She shouted loudly” = “she bellowed.”
  • Remove redundancies. Examples: “General public” = public, “Close proximity” = “close,” “final outcome” = “outcome.”
  • Replace adjective + noun with data. Examples: “the young girl” = “the 12-year-old,” “the massive industrial complex” = “the 12,000 sq. ft. campus” 
  • Simplify inflated speech. Examples: “Due to the fact that” = “because,” “On two separate occasions” = “twice,” “he has the ability to” = “he can.”
  • Avoid unnecessary prepositions. Examples: “put it down on the table” = “put it on the table,” “she ran over to his desk” = “she ran to his desk.”

Write on, friends, and save your recipients the time it takes to decipher your wordy paragraphs to get to the point. Leave the ironic rambles to Shakespeare.

Credits: Alexis Anthony, writer; Christopher Ross via Pixabay, image)

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