You’ll often hear it said that good business writing should be concise. We agree, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be short.

Let’s go right back to basics. When you write, you put words on a page for a reason. In business, this often means you hope to persuade people to do something – like buy your product or think well of your brand. So why would you put words on a page that didn’t need to be there? As the great English professor William Strunk Jnr put it:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

— William Strunk Jnr.

Every word should tell, that’s the key. This doesn’t mean that a word is only worth its place if it conveys information. Follow that path and you'll end up with writing that’s devoid of emotion or personality.

Rather, every word must help to tell a story. This could be providing information about a company, but it could equally mean helping readers to feel something about a company.

Take our work with Swedish loudspeaker maestros Marten, for example. In capturing the company's story, we wrote:

Picture the scene. It’s the mid-1970s in a small town in southern Sweden and a 12-year-old boy is prototyping loudspeakers in the family garage. Meet our founder, Leif Mårten.”

— A storytelling approach

The really interesting thing about Marten is the story of how it grew from the founder’s boyhood obsession with building his own loudspeakers. We wanted to bring that scene alive for readers, to have them put themselves into the story. So some of the words in that opening justify their place because they help do this.

We could have done it without these words, of course. The result would have been something like this:

Our founder, Leif Mårten, began prototyping loudspeakers in the family garage in a small town town in southern Sweden during the mid-1970s.”

— An information-only approach

This conveys the same information in fewer words. So it's more concise and therefore a better piece of business writing, right? Wrong. It’s certainly shorter but it doesn’t convey the same thing. 

The words left out are those that help build the story and make an emotional connection with the reader. By all means follow the William Strunk Jnr's advice to “omit unnecessary words” but make sure they really are unnecessary. Otherwise, you’ll end up with writing that’s short, but not truly concise.

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