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The Power Of Brevity

My architect father was invited to speak at my school’s Career Day each year.  He was invariably faced with a room full of architecture, design, building and engineering-minded seventeen year-olds who peppered him with questions about which classes to take in college, what grad schools were the best and what career advice he would offer them.  Every time, he gave the same answer:

“I can tell you about colleges, grad schools, internships and a lot of other things, but I’m going to tell you something that most people advising future builders, architects and engineers probably won’t:  Learn to write well.  When you come to me as a job applicant, I can teach you how to use a computer program or how to work with difficult clients.  But by the time you get to me, I can’t teach you how to write- and that’s a critical skill in ANY profession.”

That advice was often repeated at home, and it’s true.  I’ve taken classes that taught me how to write computer code, make pretty emails in Dreamweaver and alter images in Photoshop.  I’ve learned about the business of law firms and the technical terms that my attorneys use to describe their work.  I’ve figured out how to behave as a professional in different work environments and how to make a pivot table in Excel.  But I strongly suspect that I wouldn’t have had any of those opportunities if I had applied to jobs with a poorly-written portfolio, résumé or cover letter.

Hang on.  Looking back on the three paragraphs I just wrote, I probably could have been more concise.  How’s this?:  No matter what career path you choose, the ability to write well is critical to professional success.  You can pick up job-specific skills along the way, but strong written communication skills should be learned and practiced from an early age.

From three paragraphs to two sentences! 

The Brazen Careerist blog posted earlier this week about the power of brevity in written communications.  Points raised by the author that I found particularly insightful include:

  • When you write with brevity, you make your points quickly and shrewdly.  You don’t waste words and, in doing so, you don’t waste a person’s time.  An employer or hiring manager, for instance, then sees you as sharp and courteous.
  • When struggling with a particular sentence, write it out in plain English- like you’re talking to a friend.  Then attack it with a red pen.
  • Read your work critically:  does every word deserve to be there?
  • Edit.
  • Edit again.

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