I Will Be Brief

Gettysburg AddressAbraham Lincoln knew it. So did Thomas Jefferson.

If you want your words to be heard and remembered, be brief.

Consider the example of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

At the November 19, 1863, dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, Lincoln was preceded by Massachusetts politician and noted speaker Edward Everett, who orated for two hours!

Lincoln spoke but two minutes. Beginning with the now-familiar “Four score and seven years ago . . .”, and concluding with his hope that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” he captured the meaning of the occasion and of the Civil War, itself. In just 10 sentences and with only 270 well-chosen words (which is about the length of this post).

Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

Why is it, then, that prolixity is more common than terseness?

Perhaps brevity is so rare because it is difficult to achieve.

Blaise Pascal, a 17th century French writer, philosopher and all-around brainiac, writing in The Provincial Letters, said this: “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

He was right, of course. Concise writing is time-consuming and difficult. You must thoroughly understand your message. And you must edit ruthlessly. Every paragraph, sentence and word must justify its existence.

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