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When Writing for Busy Readers, Less Is More

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When Writing for Busy Readers, Less Is More

Behavioral Scientist,

5 min read
4 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

In writing, brevity is a virtue.

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  • Engaging


Have you read Tolstoy’s War and Peace? Have you tackled Proust’s In Search of Lost Time? How about Cervantes’s Don Quixote or Joyce’s Ulysses? It doesn’t take a genius to work out why so many people struggle to complete these epic classics: Long texts are daunting. This is as true of an email as it is of a historical novel. Scholars Todd Rogers and Jessica Lasky-Fink underline the importance of brevity in writing. If you want to maximize your messages’ reach and effectiveness, read their concise advice.


If you want your writing to strike a chord with your audience, remember the golden rule: Less is more.

On average, white-collar professionals spend a third of their working time responding to the scores of emails and messages they receive each day. No sooner have you responded to one message than another pops into your inbox. Staying abreast of the deluge is a Sisyphean task.

According to the prevailing wisdom, the longer the text, the better. Several theories attempt to explain this phenomenon: Perhaps grade school policies that forced student assignments to aim for a certain word count have lingering effects in adulthood. Or maybe writers believe they appear smarter if they have more to say. Or possibly people fear they will omit something of import if they don’...

About the Authors

Todd Rogers is a professor of public policy at Harvard University. He teaches communicators how to write better for busy audiences. Jessica Lasky-Fink is the research director at the People Lab. She applies insights from behavioral science to improve the delivery of government services and programs. Rogers and Lasky-Fink co-wrote Writing for Busy Readers.

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    J. M. 5 months ago
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    A. V. 9 months ago
    The average person receives numerous messages daily, with professionals spending one-third of their workweek reading and responding to emails. However, more writing may lead to less reader engagement, with 165 out of 166 professionals preferring concise messages.