Campaign Corner: Is less really more?

The Campaign Corner series looks to give three tips about commonly asked campaign issues. Do get in touch if you have any questions you would like to suggest.

Today’s Campaign Corner question: In a previous Campaign Corner you wrote that “Less is more”, praising big headlines, white space etc. But don’t many issues need more explanation than you can fit in a dumbed down few words?

A very good question! To which (surprise, surprise) I once again have three answers:

  1. As Mark Twain put it, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter so I wrote this long one.” Short and succinct isn’t dumbed down, it’s the opposite. It’s far harder to write clear, precise and brief text than it is to write long, imprecise and waffly pieces. So don’t confuse brevity with dumbing down. Unless of course you think Albert Einstein was a stupid, idiotic scientist for lazily using just using five characters (not even five whole words!) to try to explain complex science when he wrote e=mc2.
  2. Writing short stories does mean thinking carefully about what the most important issues and angles really are. But that is just what you need to do if you are in power and wanting to make a real difference. Bad politicians, just like bad managers, lose themselves in reams of detail. The really good work out what is important and prioritise that.
  3. Whether your story is long or short is irrelevant if people don’t read it. There are times when longer stories, providing more detail, are certainly the right thing to do – as, for example, is often the case with school admission policies, where parents are very interested in the precise details. But undue brevity is a far, far rarer mistake than self-indulgent wordiness. Or as Einstein put it, “Make it as simple as possible. But no simpler”.

Got any other tips? Please do share them in the comment thread below.

Want to know more about local campaigning? Campaigning In Your Community by myself and Shaun Roberts should be right up your street. It’s available for only £4 from ALDC and you can read an extract for free here.

Previous Campaign Corners have included:

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This entry was posted in Campaign Corner.


  • Tony Greaves 5th Dec '11 - 5:41pm

    There is a difference between the style and the length of a story. The former should always be readable. The latter depends on the story. Trying to dumb down a complex issue is not only wrong, it will be counter-productive. But what passes for a Focus story nowadays is often no such thing – just crude propaganda that is not worth reading and not worth writing.

    Tony Greaves

  • Word has readability stats. Turn them on, and take note when you do a spell check. I aim for a Flesch-Kincaid grade level of under 7. This means that someone with 7 years of education can follow your prose. It isn’t a perfect way to assess text, but it is a good starting point. Cut out the passive and use short words and short sentences. Far more people read the Sun than Prospect magazine, and you need to write for the former. This also means that Prospect readers can scan it, and understand it, between picking it up and putting it in the recycling!

    I have just written the opening of an article on how to get out of the recession. I have explained 4 alternatives, in 137 words, with a F-K grade score of 5.7.

  • With some editing, I got my 137 words down to 108, albeit with a slight rise in the F-K grade level to 5.9…

  • Tim – thanks, I had no idea Word had that capability! I’ll be having some fun with that next time I write something!

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