Here’s the seventh of 12 ads from the 1982 “Power of the Printed Word” ad campaign by International Paper Company. I’m offering the series as an inspiration to your staff, co-workers – and you – to communicate more effectively and understand the benefits of doing so – not just at work but in life.
Seventh in the series: “How to write clearly” by Edward T. Thompson
Often, people choose to move in straight lines. For example, unless you’ve taken an AARP “safe driving” course for seniors, you’re likely to go ahead and make a left turn to go eastbound on Main Street rather than avoid that maneuver by proceeding to the next intersection, turning right and then turning right twice more so – yup – you’re traveling eastbound on Main Street. If the shortest route between the TV room and the fridge is through the living room, that’ll likely be your preferred path.
Edward T. Thompson, for eight years the editor in chief of Reader’s Digest, made a living taking the shortest route. Reader’s Digest was in the “gist” business: It shortened stories (“condensed” them, in its lingo), presumably so the reader could learn something with as little a time commitment as possible. So, Thompson and his team had to be extremely efficient editors. They did it very well: During his tenure, Thompson’s Reader’s Digest was the highest-circulation publication in the world, published in 49 editions in 21 languages and available in more than 70 countries.
I’m not sure I’m on board with condensing an author’s work – it feels sort of like removing certain colors from someone’s painting without asking – but the concept certainly prepared Thompson to offer excellent advice in his Power of the Printed Word offering, “How to write clearly.” I suggest you proceed straight to it.
Pull quote: “Write more clearly by saying it in fewer words: when you’ve finished, stop.”