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Structure Tips Theory WebPoems Workshops Books Articles Lisa Jonathan


Cut paper text by half.
On Brevity

Scan On!

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Reading from computer screens is about 25% slower than reading from paper. As a result, people don’t want to read a lot of text from computer screens: you should write 50% less text and not just 25% less since it’s not only a matter of reading speed but also a matter of feeling good. —Nielsen, 1997.

Original Paragraph from Morkes & Nielsen:

Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions that draw large crowds of people every year, without fail. In 1996, some of the most popular places were Fort Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors), Scotts Bluff National Monument (132,166), Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum (100,000), Carhenge (86,598), Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (60,002), and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park (28,446).

62 words.

Paragraph revised for concision:

In 1996, six of the best-attended attractions in Nebraska were Fort Robinson State Park, Scotts Bluff National Monument, Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum, Carhenge, Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park.

39 words.


Pithy sentences are like sharp nails driving truth into our memory.


It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.


The more you say, the less people remember.


Challenge: Rewrite to shrink 50% …

Traditionally, when technical writers speak of software documentation, they are speaking about manuals for end users, and certainly they have every right to do so, because user manuals are so necessary. In fact, user manuals produced by engineers (and I am proud to count myself as an engineer) have often been so poorly written and so poorly organized, so downright bad in general, that a whole section of the bookstore has sprung up, for third-party books explaining the software that these manuals did such a poor job of explaining in the first place. Note, also, video training courses, and audio tapes, and workshops everywhere. But I must point out that there is much more to documentation than user manuals, because engineers need their own documentation, such as the original requirements docs, then the specs, and as the design grows, we have the design documents; test plans, and test results, and finally, manuals for the people who come after us to maintain the product.

163 words



See: Baker & Goldstein (1966), Bork (1983), Glass (1989), Horton (1990), Levine (1997), Morkes & Nielsen (1997, 1998), Nielsen (1997a, 1997b).

(July 1, 1998)

Other tips on brevity:

Bibliography List of web sites, research articles, and textbooks used to develop the tips.


Copyright 1998 Jonathan and Lisa Price, The Communication Circle
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