It’s always nice when Harvard backs up some fundamental tenet that journalists and marketers had long believed. Today, that reassurance comes from Harvard researchers who confirmed the importance of concise writing.
“There is a distressingly widespread misconception among writers that more is better,” writes Todd Rogers and Jessica Lasky-Fink, Harvard researchers and authors of Writing for Busy Readers. “Whatever the cause of all this verbal excess, the reality is more writing leads readers to be less likely to read anything.”
In one study comparing a larger “wordy” email and a shorter “concise” email, 165 out of 166 professionals said they’d deal with the concise email first.
“Readers often interpret the length of a message as an indication of how difficult and time-consuming it will be to respond to,” the researchers said, “which is another reason why they might choose not to engage with a wordy communication.”
Sure enough, in a separate study, they sent emails to more than 7,000 school board members asking that they complete a short survey. Their “wordy” email was 127 words while their “concise” one was 49 words.
Though they both pointed to the same five-minute survey, the “concise” email brought in nearly twice as many responses.
“Spending a little more time up front to be concise saves readers and writers time by reducing follow-ups, misunderstandings, and requests left unfulfilled.”