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Brevity vs. Humanity

Updated: Sep 30, 2023


Terraced hillsides growing food among thinned trees and smoke

In the rush to make our content as short and scannable as possible, what are we losing?


Listen, I love to write long things. I wrote a novel that no one wants to publish, and I'm writing several more. I used to write big articles for a quarterly magazine, and it was one of my favorite jobs. I prefer these blog posts to the social media posts I glean from them afterward. And I just wrote a 6,000+ word speech for a client.


But, as I’m reminded painfully often, no one has time or patience for words anymore. I should use less of them. Therefore, I’ve gotten good at chopping them back to their essential storyline, moving more quickly to the point.


This paring feels good in some contexts, most notably for websites, instructions and policies/procedures. But when I do it for articles, blog posts and speeches, it makes me queasy. It feels like gutting a landscape to make way for a crop—losing the wild to make way for the necessary.


Copyediting as grief


I stand here to challenge the blanket belief that shorter is better because, in many more applications than we think, it feels like loss. It might even be damaging.


That’s not to say there aren’t remarkable people out there writing really relatable, human pieces in a mere handful of words. There’s just a reason why we call them, “remarkable.”


Nor is it to say there great aren’t ways to disguise long-form content within short-form settings.


I firmly believe editing is critical to written communications. But editing should focus on clarity, lifting overall quality and minimizing redundancies, not on trimming back to serve the brevity god at all costs, because here’s what suffers:


A sense of personality. There’s a reason all marketing materials sound the same.


Moments of spontaneity. I can’t tell you how many ha-ha-ha moments I delete to get straight(er) to the point even as I know we all need to laugh more.


The charms of voice. Voice makes writing relatable and engaging. It gives us power to move and bond with readers. It metamorphoses mundane information-sharing into conversation. And yet, we go to great lengths to strip out voice in the name of efficiency.


Our humanity. Without personality, spontaneity and voice, how do we demonstrate we’re human? Communicators, this is why AI can threaten our livelihoods: We gave up showing our humanity in the name of expediency a long, long time ago.


Trust. People trust people. People trust what they can relate to, what can care about their desires and fears. Without humanity in common, interactions are mere transactions. Disposable. Agnostic to wants, hopes, fears, needs and life.


In the digital age, then, what sets trusted organizations apart is not always superior processes, products or messaging but an ability to show up as human. And this means letting a little more voice, spontaneity and personality leak into our content.


So go ahead and do it, brevity be damned!


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If you’re looking for a relatable but long-winded way to say something, give us a shout at the form below! We know you stand to gain by showing more of your true self, and we can help you do that well.

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