A Smartly Brief Review of “Smart Brevity”

Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More with Less
by Jim Vandehei, Mike Allen, and Roy Schwartz
Workman Publishing, 2022
Amazon | Audible

The Takeaway: Smart Brevity is fantastic and game-changing for what it is and what it tries to be, though it’s helpfulness is much more limited than its authors seem to realize.

The Big Picture: The authors are the founders of both Politico and Axios. If you’ve ever been to the Axios website, you’ve seen “smart brevity”in action. It’s a way to communicate the most things as briefly as possible to respect the time and limited attention spans of modern readers.

Go Deeper: The book itself (unsurprisingly) follows these principles. It is short, but not shallow. It shows how little time people spend reading things online, and gives simple, clear advice on how to use these principles in different applications and mediums. It also serves as a mini-advertisement of their AI software they built to help businesses use this in their work.

The Upside: They apply these principles to many, many areas–and I’m convinced! For businesses, newsletter writers, marketing and communications teams, social media managers, and leaders and supervisors of all kinds, I see how smart brevity is the way the current world needs to function.

It feels like a superpower once you start using it, but it’s a muscle that needs to be exercised. I am naturally very wordy, and have been trying to use smart brevity in emails, texts, and talks with my wife. She has really appreciated it.

Yes, But… Smart brevity’s applications are more limited than the authors imply. They offer smart brevity as the greatest way of communicating and transmitting information today. But outside of a brief mention of fiction and poetry in the introduction, they don’t talk about where they think smart brevity doesn’t work well.

I mainly communicate in academia, religious preaching, and this blog. I am often not just sharing facts, but making an argument–a form of communication which, in a polarized world, is dominating more of our interactions. And they never talk about this.

People can no longer just say a perspective and leave it there. They must anticipate rebuttals, demonstrate their knowledge of the subject, and show their work logically to show how they got there. And this takes words. Not just bolded headings and bullet points.

My Take: So yes, Smart Brevity is already having a positive effect on my life. Even a cursory scan of my writing shows I need it. I write and say way too much.

But words still matter. The beauty of words still matter. I know the authors would say they love words and think smart brevity can be beautiful. And that is true. But there are realms and topics of communicating for which “short” really does mean short-changed.


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