The Golden Rule To Being A Powerful Writer

Editing Possums

It’s been a year since I started this blog. I have received lots of feedback. The most consistent has been around one thing that readers like most about “Wrestling Possums.” I was surprised, and have worked damned hard to use this feedback every time I write. It’s the secret to being a powerful writer.

Writing is still a big part of business. Proposals. Emails. Blogs. Whatever. Some people are really effective business writers. The rest are generally terrible. But it is a simple habit that sets great business writers apart from the rest. And this is particularly so with writing emails.

Do yourself a favor. Take this blog post to heart. Grab hold of this tip and make it part of your writing, always. If you want to be a great writer, then you must follow this one Golden Rule:

Keep it short.

It is as simple as that. Takes time. Takes effort.  Takes persistence. But put in the hard yards. Keep it short, and you will be a powerful communicator.

You’ve told me that’s why you keep reading ‘Possums.’ There’s a point usually, and it’s told quickly.

The End.


A great quote from Blaise Pascal, a 17th century philosopher: 











Keeping it short takes a little extra effort and work.


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31 Responses to The Golden Rule To Being A Powerful Writer

  1. Martin P June 20, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    I once heard Peter Carey say that the most important thing in writing is to “aspire to brevity”. He wrote some pretty long books, so not sure how it worked for him but I always have that in my head when writing

    • Chris Savage June 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

      Thanks Martin- do we have a catch up date set?

  2. Gary Elphick June 20, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Great post chris, also like to add – speak plain English. The person reading needs to be able to understand it.

    Keep it up

  3. Jeff Estok June 20, 2012 at 9:45 am #

    In a word–Sensational!

    • Chris Savage June 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

      Thanks Jeff!

  4. Carolyn June 20, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Great advice Chris. We all know it, but to be told it by someone whose blog I avidly read every week – reinforces it’s truth. Have just started my own blog so will be keeping these words top of mind. Thanks.

    • Chris Savage June 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

      Carolyn- how do I subscribe to your blog?

  5. Peter Boland June 20, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    Great advice Chris. So much correspondence is totally unprofessional because it lacks grammar, punctuation & correct spelling, worst of all it INCLUDES unnecessary waffle!!

  6. Justin Di Lollo June 20, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    Not so sure about Chris’ advice this time.

    While I heartily agree with Blaise Pascal – that it’s harder but better to communicate succinctly than long-windedly – we modern business people have a tendency to oversimplify complex things.

    The “one line” email/SMS – generally sent from a mobile device – can often create more confusion than it resolves. Lack of specificity, confusing grammar and not directly addressing the issue at hand are common problems I see in such messages.

    This creates the need for additional communication to resolve the matter. An appalling spiral of one-line messages often ensues.

    I’d like to think that shorter isn’t necessarily better in day-to-day business communications. It’s the quality of the communication that counts. If it takes three extra sentences to get the message right the first time, I’ll happily invest in reading them!

    That being said, I’m a noted windbag (thanks everyone for the 360 feedback!), so who am I to talk. And talk… And talk!

    • Chris Savage June 20, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

      Fair enough. My point is…. with effort, we can get our message across fully…and more powerfully…if we do so more succinctly. No-one has time anymore for lengthy correspondence. Thanks for contributing. Appreciated as always Justin.

  7. Leigh June 20, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    This is why I consider myself to be a good writer rather than a great writer.

    I am loquacious to a fault.

    I write like I talk: at length 🙂

    I can however agree whole-heartedly with you Chris – short is attention grabbing and is definitely worth the extra effort of culling those unneccessary words

    Finished – thangyewverymuch

    • Chris Savage June 20, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

      Thanks Leigh.

  8. Grant Butler June 20, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Hi Chris. As a writerly sort, I can’t resist commenting on this one…

    It’s great advice and you’re a wonderfully succinct writer, but keep in mind we read your blog because you also ‘say something’! There’s really three things I think you do well and that I’m sure others could take to heart:
    1. good content, and that you often take the risk of revealing a weakness in order to share a lesson.
    2. the tight style you refer to, especially the snappy sentences.
    3, the odd dash of flair, especially in your case in building suspense even in short posts.

    All of which is to say that being succinct is a cornerstone of powerful writing, but only part of the equation. I’ll happily read a Stephen Fry or a late Christopher Hitchens for hours purely for the brilliance of their prose, no matter what they’re writing about. And even Hemingway used some mind-numbingly long sentences, but always with a purpose.

    • David Trewern June 20, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

      I aspire to brevity, but am a windbag like Justin! Regardless of length – clarity, completeness and comprehension (at the readers end) is what matters. Short cryptic messages are far less valuable than a story well told, but over embellished.

      • Chris Savage June 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

        David- that’s the shortest email you have ever written! It works!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Chris

    • Chris Savage June 20, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

      Great counsel Grant- I learnt from that. Thank you.

      • Margaret La June 22, 2012 at 9:33 am #

        Happy blog Birthday Chris, it’s a fantastic achievement, congratulations. I second Grant’s feedback about why I read your blogs – especially the suspense you create. Here’s the thing: I know that I’m being sucked in when I read the first sentence, but of course I then have to read the rest of the article!

        • Chris Savage June 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

          Thanks Margaret . Appreciated. Chris

  9. Andrew Parker June 20, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    if I had a magic work wand, wish #1 is a machine that removed 80% of what is written by colleagues and retained meaning. In olden’ times newspapers had such a machine called the sub editor X258, but Fairfax unplugged them last Millenium. I am addicted to brevity, thanks to lessons from Mr Savage who taught me to manage up. If I can’t write to my CEO in 50 two sentences, I’ve failed. My second wish is for a 2,000 sqft private executive bathroom, but that blog is for another day… P.S. I acknowledge the irony that this reply is not two sentences.

    • Andrew Parker June 20, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

      delete 50, two sentences or 50 words!

      • Chris Savage June 20, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

        At least you re-read it!

    • Chris Savage June 20, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

      Great stuff Andrew! Thanks for the contribution. Much love. Chris

  10. Shona June 20, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    Considering I have just started a blog and have tried to remain short wherever possible, I loved this post…. but then I love pretty much all your posts and can’t wait for that email notification in my inbox!

    • Chris Savage June 20, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

      Thanks so much Shona. Appreciated. Chris

  11. Rob Irving June 20, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    Short sharp rule, thanks, Chris. Hard yards on the thinking front essential. Reminded of the cab driver who gave me some sage advice on my way to running a writing workshop for a client. He quoted Gandhi for me. “Think five times before you speak, ten times before you write”.

    • Chris Savage June 20, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

      Thanks Rob. Great quote!

    • Wendy Novianto June 20, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

      I’m tweeting the quote now 🙂

  12. Susan Redden Makatoa June 20, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    I like to use the car park test – that is, can you explain it to some random fella you just met in the car park?

    Happy Possum birthday Chris!

    • Chris Savage June 20, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

      Thanks Susan!

  13. Wendy Novianto June 20, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    I believe there should be an additional rule added.
    “Take time to understand your audience.”

    You need to know when to write in better detail to person that requires more information in executing what you instruct through email; and when to write it short and concise for your boss so they get enough overview of what’s going on.

    I’m not a good english writer myself, so keeping it short help me hide my grammar mistake as well, so it’s a double benefits for me.

    Once again, another great insightful post! Thanks…

  14. Edward Krause July 19, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    Keeping it short is using less words for the sake of it.

    Keeping it concise is getting the same, correct meaning in fewer words. That should be the aim.

    Short is easy. Concise is a skill.

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