Business Writing: Short Writing Reaps Long Benefits

Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published March 3, 2015, updated April 24, 2023
Business Writing: Short Writing Reaps Long Benefits

“Say all you have to say in the fewest words possible, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.”

-John Ruskin

Joseph McCormack, author of Brief: Making a Bigger Impact by Saying Less, said that 43% of the people in his research admitted to deleting or ignoring the long emails they received at work.

Sound familiar?


Short writing is key to good business writing. 

In the book, How to Write Short, Roy Peter Clark says that,

“In the digital age, short writing is king. We need more good short writing—the kind that makes us stop, read, and think—in an accelerated world. A time-starved culture bloated with information hungers for the lean, clean, simple and direct.”

He also pointed out that if you take the following documents:

  • The Gettysburg Address
  • The Hippocratic Oath
  • The Preamble to the Constitution
  • The Twenty-Third Psalm
  • The Lord's Prayer
  • Shakespeare's Sonnet 18
  • The final paragraph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior's "I Have a Dream" Speech

...and add them up, the total word count is only 996.

It makes you wonder if everything you included in your last report was absolutely necessary, doesn’t it?

Blame college. Professors rarely say to a student, “Write just enough words to make your point clearly.” Instead students write up to a word count or page length. Puffing up language to meet the requirements (and the deadline) is a skill students refine and take pride in. 

Even after college, the wordiness continues. One reason is the myth that if you explain in more detail, and use lots of Latinate words ending in –ation, you sound smarter.

Plus, most of us tend to believe that we can persuade a reader to our point of view if we offer just a few more details, and then a few more.

Writing without bloat requires specific business writing skills.

So, what skills are necessary to convert to short writing?

They include the ability to:

  • Plan before writing
  • Think critically and synthesize complex information
  • Focus and prioritize
  • Choose clear language over vague or abstract language
  • Paraphrase and distill a message to its essence

Applications where clear, short writing is especially needed.

A partial list of short writing includes executive summaries, blog posts, memos, emails, letters of recommendation, sales copy, press releases, mission statements, job postings, product descriptions, pitch notes, PowerPoint slides, abstracts, texts, and tweets.

Short writing can be learned.

“Writers write long when they haven’t taken the time to write short.”

Paul Raymond Martin

All of our business writing courses teach the optimal process for first ensuring the substance of your document is complete and relevant. Once you hone the skills to write a substantive, well-organized document, all courses then address clarity and short writing:

All our courses are divided into three parts:

Part One: Process

How to write efficiently, identify your audience and get the desired response from the reader.

Part Two: Practice and Feedback

Through group and individual exercises, you apply what you are learning to actual documents. You receive feedback from your instructor and the opportunity to fine-tune your understanding of the material.

Part Three: Language and Style

You learn strategies for improving brevity, clarity, grammar, and language flow in your writing.

To learn more about how Instructional Solutions can bring brevity to your business communications, contact us. You’ll join an impressive array of U.S. and global clients.


Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published March 3, 2015, updated April 24, 2023
Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island, an M.A. in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.