Communication Skills

JS Tip 54: From the Writing Workshops: The Advantages of Being Short III

Two weeks ago, we talked about short words.

Last week, we talked about short sentences.

Today, we’ll talk about short paragraphs.

Keep your paragraphs to no more than six lines long. Lines, not sentences. Longer paragraphs are harder to read. They intimidate your readers. They scare them away.

For example, look at a document on your desk right now. Any document. Don't read it. Just look at it.

Is it inviting? Is it easy to navigate? Do important points stand out? Does it scream Read me! There’s important information here!

If your answer is “No,” the writer failed.

We mentioned this last week: Increased demands have decreased our attention spans. Longer paragraphs—longer than six lines—require too much attention. We don't want to read them because they'll take too much effort.

Look at your document again. Count the lines of the paragraphs. Will adjusting the paragraph length help you want to read it more?

Keep your paragraphs short.

Like that one.

Follow-up

Two weeks ago, we asked you to identify a memorable quotation with big words. No one did, but we received some nice quotations with short words:

Shirley Wilson of Wells Fargo Bank quoted Friedrich Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Nine words. Ten syllables.

Bruce May of the Carlsbad (California) Police Department pointed to Nike’s counsel: “Just do it.” Three words. Three syllables.

Clear messages. Short words.