Executive Writing: Why Shorter Isn't Always Smarter
Updated: May 19
I often run into people in corporate high-office who, despite not being communication specialists, insist that written communications going out under their name should be short, not long.
While I don't disagree with this notion necessarily, I think it is worth delving into why these executives think shorter written communications is better. The usual answer I receive is, "because the recipient won't read it if it's a long communication" — or words to that effect.
I don't usually have the opportunity or time to explain why I think they might be misguided in their belief. So, allow me to take the opportunity here ...
Just because you received feedback that your communication is long, it doesn't quite follow that your response should be to make your communication shorter. There might, instead, be a more appropriate and effective response to this.
In my experience, audiences will read as much as you want them to as long as what you have written is readable, relevant and relatable. This theory aligns with what digital media strategists often say: write longer content so audiences stay on your pages longer. If digital media strategists can be successful in writing long content that engages, so can you.
When I get the chance to view executives' previous communications (the longer kind), what I invariably find is their writing is neither readable, relevant or relatable.
Now all they've gone-and-done is made their less-than-readable, -relevant and -relateable communication shorter. In other words, their writing is shorter, but it's likely their audience still isn't reading it.
This fixation on ¡short! communication is also, unfortunately, resulting in an unforeseen and pernicious consequence: the removal of information that actually helps inform and provide context to intended recipients.
It always pains me to see details being excised from a piece of communication simply for the sake of brevity — as if word count is all that really matters.
In my view, word count is the least of our issues. As communicators (after all, all leaders are communicators), we need to be thinking of relating our message and providing value to our audiences, not fixating on something that someone may have said to you about your writing — most likely without having read it.
The time has come to write smarter, not shorter.
Photo by Martin Péchy from Pexels