140 characters

See Spot run. Help Spot help.

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See Spot run. Run Spot run.

These simple statements helped teach several generations of American children to read, as part of the reader series that featured the legendary Dick and Jane.

Two sentences. Six words. Six syllables. Twenty letters.

Contrast that clarity with the opening two sentences of this representative press release:

“Mavenir Systems, the leading innovator of mobile infrastructure solutions for LTE operators, today announced the VoLTE Edition of its mOne™ Convergence Platform. Available now, the Mavenir mOne Convergence Platform – VoLTE Edition provides operators with three options for quickly and cost-effectively deploying voice and messaging services over LTE.”

Huh?

I’d say we’ve lost our way, trading simplicity and clarity for cumbersome prose laden with jargon, hyperbole and empty-calorie phrases.

This is progress?

As our world becomes increasingly polluted with bulky, incomprehensible writing, there’s a simple way to reverse the trend and stand out from the fray.

By returning to Spot-like simplicity.

That’s one of the reasons I am such a fan of Twitter. It imposes discipline. Each thought is limited to a tidy 140 characters.

But I’m dismayed by the recent introduction of services like TwitLonger, which touts its service as “a way to let you post to Twitter when 140 characters just isn’t enough.”

Rather than forcing you to edit and synthesize your ideas into a shorter, more cohesive thought, it just facilitates your chronic lack of discipline.

In the words of Mark Twain and/or Blaise Pascal, “I would have written a shorter letter but didn’t have time.”

I’m reminded of the majority of my classroom teachers, whose essay assignments carried with them a required minimum number of words (or more commonly, pages). At the time, it seemed like a perfectly acceptable guideline for defining the assignment and establishing a consistent expectation for students.

Now, I think it’s a lazy technique that teaches students to value volume over substance.

Who among us hasn’t done some creative stretching to achieve page minimums – only to be rewarded with an exceptional grade? Not only did we learn that filling space is valued more than economy of thought, but also that length is one of the most significant arbiters of writing success.

It isn’t.

I’ve discovered that limits are much more effective than quotas in forging writers. I have become a much stronger writer and editor from having to shave down an article to fit a precariously tight word count. Painful as the process may be, the resulting piece is immeasurably stronger and more readable.

Do you think Hemingway would use TwitLonger?

Spot thinks not.

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