Get to the Point – Be Brief (insight from Joseph McCormack’s book, brief)

The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what – these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.
Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other.
William Zinsser, On Writing Well

Write short, crisp sentences.
Judge Mark P. Painter, Legal Writing 201:  30 Suggestions to Improve Readability or How to Write for Judges, not Like Judges


BriefThe opening lines from brief: make a bigger impact by saying less, by Joseph McCormack:

Long story, short. Executives are busy, and your rambling presentation gets loss in their daily flood of information.
Get to the Point or Pay the Price
You cannot afford to miss the boat on brevity. It’s the difference between success and failure. And if you think you’ve already got it covered, you’re wrong…
You get the point. Today’s world is on information overload, and there isn’t enough time to sift through all the messages. If you can’t capture people’s attention and deliver your message with brevity, you’ll lose them.

Mr. McCormack is right, of course.

You’ve got to reduce your message to the bare minimum, and say it quickly. Clearly. With great clarity. So that your audience can get it quickly.

Which means you have to be very sure about what it is you have to say. You have to have clear thinking, with great clarity, in your own mind — really clear – before you can express your thoughts clearly in brief form to others.

{“What am I trying to say? Surprisingly often, the writer does not know.” — Zinsser}

When I write speeches for others (I do some speech writing), I write the speech for the number of minutes they are to speak. But, before I give them the manuscript of the speech for the first run through, I give them the speech in three short sentences. “This is the speech,” I tell them. Three short sentences. No more.

If you can’t do that — actually, if you can’t reduce the speech to one clear thesis sentence, a pretty short thesis sentence – you are not ready to speak.

Short; clear; right to the point!

At the end of brief comes this warning:

Let’s not forget the constant risk of reverting to bad, long-winded habits.


Now, brief provides a 200+ page step-by-step approach to becoming brief. But before you read it, you have to decide that his premise is right.

It is!

Learn to be brief.

Stay brief.

Don’t succumb to the risk of reverting to being not brief.

People have too much other stuff to watch/read/listen to. Your message is competing with a lot of other messages. Get your message out, quickly. Make it brief, keep it brief. Your only hope is to keep it brief. brief, the book, can help.

(See also this earlier blog post:  Get to the Point! – Insight/Reminder from Joe McCormack, for all Speakers and Writers).


Footnote:  that quote from near the end of the book; let’s take out one word, and reframe it slightly:

Let’s not forget the constant risk of reverting to bad habits. 

The warning is pretty much universal.  We constantly revert to bad habits, in a lot of ways.  Be vigilant.  Yes, we have long-winded habits to guard against, and many others also…


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