When I travel by car, I tend to take far too much with me. Four pairs of shoes, all sorts of things I might need on my trip.
When I travel by air, I find the grit to pare down my belongings to fit in a carry-on suitcase. How can that be? Werent those other items essential to my trip survival?
So it is with writing. We add lots of words, trying to include all the essential facts we need to support our arguments, our passionate pleas, our PowerPoint presentations. We may be forgetting a couple of elements:
1. In all communication, consider the audience. Do not insult them by including what they already know. In fiction, the reader understands a characters motivation through his or her actions and dialogue. Often so do our supervisors and peers at work. I finished the proposal and sent it to the prospect. Stop. Often no need to add: It included our usual stipulations and override clauses and a convincing argument as to why were their best choice. Your readers should already know that. What proposal from the firm didnt contain those elements? What does including that admitted puff say about you to your peers and supervisors? Youre worried about the prospects reaction? Youre not certain your argument was as convincing as it might have been?
2. Too much verbiage dilutes the message. Say what you want to say and stop.
Heres a short story attributed to Ernest Hemingway: For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn. Doesnt that say it all? And bring tears to your eyes?
People rail at Twitter and text messaging and the shortcuts forced on us by social media. Perhaps I should be appalled by the shortcuts taken, especially in text messages. However, I believe that Ernest Hemingway would have taken to Twitter with zest. The one quoted above is six words, 33 characters. Hed have another 107 characters to play with.
Twitter and text talk, the language of text messaging, are simply newer uses of language to communicate. As long as the message recipient understands the message, then the purpose of language is met.
Because thats the goal. Clearly communicating your thoughts to another. Sometimes Im afraid we take shortcuts and assume that others share our points of view. My OMG in reaction to a current event or a friends behavior may not be yours. Therein may lie the danger in the abbreviated language of text messaging.
If the shortcuts we take save us input time but dont make our messages clear, then perhaps they arent really time savers. And if the recipient doesnt speak the language and needs to take time and effort to translate it, then that doesnt save time or help communication. Or the attitude of the reader.
In the right place and with the right audience, speaking in abbreviations and slang works. In the multi-generational workplace, it might pay to consider your audience before you text.
For those of us who on occasion forget what LOL means, hope and translation can be found in sites such as Netlingo, the Internet Dictionary: www.netlingo.com.
My excess baggage rule also applies to PowerPoint, that maligned and overused presentation tool. If you must use it (and I sometimes do because it keeps me on track), use images that portray concepts (use royalty-free images or pay for them), no more than seven bullets and seven words per bullet, and choose a font size that matches your audiences vision. A speaker I once heard advocated another 10 points in font size per decade over 30 of your average audience member.
My travel advice? Fly light.
KATHY McINTOSH Boise author, speaker and freelance editor. Owner of A Well-Placed Word.