Alex Bell

Say more with less: Tips to be a more concise communicator

You’ve probably been here before: You click open a resume only to be greeted by a seemingly never ending wall of text. If you’re being honest, you’ve probably sent emails like that too.

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

Many of us confuse lengthiness with competence. We convince ourselves that expounding on every minute detail of a topic makes us appear more well-informed and intelligent.

That goes a long way in explaining why the average email is almost a whopping 435 words — despite the fact that the most impactful and meaningful emails rank somewhere between only 75 and 100 words. We hit 100 words right here, for context. 

In reality, an expansive communication style works against us. Plenty of influential figures throughout history reveal that brevity, conciseness, and simplicity are some of your most powerful communication tools. 

Abraham Lincoln’s prominent Gettysburg Address was 272 words and lasted only two minutes. Rosa Parks responded stoically with a single word when she was told to give up her bus seat: No. Jeff Bezos wrote shareholder letters at an eighth-grade reading level. Albert Einstein famously said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” 

Simplicity is key. But if you’re someone who’s notorious for a communication style that requires a thesaurus and relentless scrolling, here are a few tips to be more succinct:

  • Don’t bury the lede: It’s tempting to build up to the most important piece of information. But with most workplace communication, there’s no need to generate suspense. Put the most important, need-to-know information upfront so people get what they need right away.
  • Use bullet points: A bulleted list is easier to read and digest than a giant paragraph, so break up information this way (like we did here). As an added bonus, one small study found that bulleted lists can boost retention. 
  • Cut out the jargon: Some is unavoidable and can even be a more efficient way to communicate — particularly in highly-technical industries. But if your message is dripping in so much niche lingo that somebody needs an industry glossary to get through it, challenge yourself to simplify things.
  • Include a call to action: You’re sharing this information for a reason — be clear about what it is. Give a clear call to action so people know exactly what to do next. When you do, be as specific as possible. There’s a big difference between, “Let me know what you think!” and, “Please jot your notes on this proposal by Friday.” 

In short (pun intended), it’s tempting to think that being as thorough and exhaustive as possible is the best way to signal your intelligence and competence to everybody else. But the harsh reality is that your long-winded messages aren’t doing you any favors. Cut the fluff and keep it concise. 

And if you’re wondering, this whole article was right around 480 words — only a little bit longer than the typical email. Yikes.