1 min Read
July 31, 2013

What’s better than brevity? Clarity.

Katherine Lindstedt

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

It’s a Mark Twain quote often referenced in many a conversation about the value of brevity.

There’s some truth to it, of course. It takes time to write sharp, concise prose—often much more time than it takes to write something of greater length.

And, like many of my colleagues, I think it’s absolutely worthwhile to spend that extra time trimming the fat and removing gratuitous language, whether words from sentences, sentences from paragraphs, or entire paragraphs from whatever it is you’re writing.

Less worthwhile, though, is removing necessary language for the sake of brevity. Ultimately, writing needs to inform, and the information needs to be getting across. Rather than striving for short, we should strive for clear. (Though the two often tend to go hand in hand.)

For instance, take Top Nonprofits’ examples of 50 different mission statements, which range in length from two words to 235. Mission statements in general, not just those on the list, have a tendency to suffer from wordiness, and from jargon in particular.

Looking through the various mission statements, it’s obvious that we should always aim for clarity. The statements that feel most successful to me are those that say neither too much nor too little but just enough; the ones that avoid jargon but include as many details as it takes to justify an organization’s mission and, ideally, differentiate it from similar ones.