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Florida Competition Winner Explains Principle of Success: Brevity

by Tom Johnson on Mar 20, 2007 •
categories: technical-writing

Today I became convinced of something I'd always known: shorter is better. While driving to our Florida Tech. Comm. Competition showcase event, I listened to a South by Southwest podcast on "How to Add Video to Your Blog." (I actually had my videocamera with me to take footage at the event.) The vloggers explained that 3 minutes is the max length you want. At that point, the reader gets the point.

I was also looking at Copyblogger's posts — all nicely chunked material, with short paragraphs, subheads, and lists, just as any tech writer would organize help. And I looked at Nielsen's heatmap results from an eye-tracking survey. Readers scan the first three paragraphs and then wander elsewhere.

But it was Amy Weiss's acceptance remarks for winning Best of Show that cemented the principle of brevity for me. Her Motorola quick guide, a manual you can fit in your pocket, delivered exactly what users want: a short, easy-to-consume guide. Weiss explained that selecting the topics required intense deliberation and thought. Which leads to another irony: shorter is harder. But this time I'm taking the advice to heart. My posts are too long. I'm going to be more brief.

If I have to write more, I'll use subheads. I think long blog posts are symptomatic of unclear thoughts. But that is one reason we write: to figure out what we think.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.

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