I’ve written many times on this blog about the danger of “clutter.” Clutter comes in all forms – from the media voices screaming for our attention, to the messy desk in front of us (where was that file again?) to the million other options that keep us from pursuing our creative calling. We don’t have to be minimalists – I love being surrounded by my favorite things – but far too often we let piles of paper, stacks of books, or other “stuff” become obstacles to our creativity.
Over-communication can become clutter as well. Never use 3 words when 1 word would do. Academic writing is probably the biggest offender, as if they’re trying to impress us with the word count rather than the concept behind the article or book. But many of our writing and speaking efforts could be streamlined. William Zinsser, author of the writing classic “On Writing Well” (1976) describes the danger of clutter for writers, and if you’re a writer or professional speaker please take note:
“Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon. Who can understand the clotted language of everyday American commerce: the memo, the corporate report, the business letter, the notice from the bank explaining its latest “simplified” statement? What member of an insurance plan can decipher the brochure explaining the costs and benefits? What father or mother can put together a child’s toy from the instructions on the box? Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important. The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation wouldn’t think of saying it may rain. The sentence is too simple—there must be something wrong with it.
But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure who is doing what—these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to education and rank.”
Now – what’s your action step for eliminating over-communication?