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Make each paragraph short.
On Brevity

Scan On!

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People are more likely to read a short passage of text than a long one, especially if they have to make an extra effort, like scrolling, to do it.

Onscreen text is more difficult and time consuming to read than hardcopy text, which makes people even less likely to thoroughly read long sections of text on a computer.

—Apple (1997)

Users rarely read long contiguous passages of text from computer screens.

—Lynch, 1997

Original Paragraphs:

Bitmaps go back to the earliest days of computer graphics. Until bitmaps, people thought making a Christmas tree out of x’s and v’s was pretty artistic. But with the innovations of machines like Apple’s Macintosh and the Xerox Star, the engineers conceived of the screen image not as a bunch of characters, but as a set of dots, in a grid. At the time, each dot, or picture element, could either be on (black) or off (white). So by recording the exact coordinates of every pixel, and its state (on or off), engineers could capture your picture. Thus, a bitmap image stored your picture by making a map, or grid and populating it with bits. Each square of the grid represented a tiny portion of your screen—the amount displayed by one pixel, or picture element. And each pixel was represented, electronically, by a single bit. That’s how the file came to be known as a bitmap.

But then along came grayscale—mixtures of black and white, from 0%, or white, to 100%, or black. That meant that each pixel had, somehow, to record more information than before (not just on or off, but a percentage of gray), and that took up more bits. Then came colors. When you just had 256 colors, you didn’t have to use a lot of bits to record the number of the color of a particular pixel. But then we began to see millions of colors. Just to record, say, "Color Number One Million Two Hundred Thousand One Hundred and Fifty Two" took up even more bits. That’s why you hear people talking about "8-bit color," "16-bit color," and so on. Each pixel in the map required a lot of bits.

287 words.

Revised paragraphs:

Originally, a bitmap image stored your picture by making a map, or grid. Each square of the grid represented a tiny portion of your screen—the amount displayed by one pixel, or picture element.

In those days, a pixel could either be on or off, that is, black or white—so it only took one bit of information to record its state. Hence, the file became known as a bitmap.

Now, of course, each pixel can record many levels of gray or one of millions of colors, so we have to use more bits per pixel to record all that information—hence, terms such as "8-bit color," or "16-bit color."

110 words.

Challenge: Rewrite in several short paragraphs.

Do you sense that your computer takes longer to find and open a file than it used to? You may have thought at first that you were just imagining the slowdown, but over time you have come to conclude that, yes, every time you ask a program to open a file, you have to wait longer and longer. A common cause of this gradual decline in performance is file fragmentation. You see, all the space on your hard disk is divided up into discrete areas, called clusters. When you ask the computer to save a file on your hard disk, the operating system breaks the file up into a whole series of pieces, each of which is the size of a cluster. When you first use your hard disk, a file can be easily fitted into a bunch of neighboring clusters, so you can open all the pieces quickly. But as time goes on, and you keep adding, changing, and deleting files on the disk, all those pieces of the original file may get scattered across the whole surface of the disk. The file becomes fragmented. Now the computer has to take longer to find all the pieces and bring them together for you to work with as a unit. That’s why you notice the slowdown whenever you try to open a file. Our Swoop utility can help. It examines the way the pieces of each file are laid out on the hard disk, then pulls together all the pieces in nearby clusters, for faster access. In addition, Swoop locates the occasional empty cluster, and moves those all together, to make room for any new files you need to save. The process of moving all the fragments of a file into contiguous clusters may take an hour or so, if you have a hard disk with 2 gigabytes of information on it. But after that cleanup, you will find you are not waiting around every time you choose Open from the File menu. Like Spring Cleaning, Swoop takes a while, but has long-lasting good effects.

345 words




See: Apple (1997), Henderson & Bradford (1984), Horton (1990), Lynch (1997)

(July 15, 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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