Churchill on 'Brevity' Before Writing

"...the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking," Churchill advises.

I recently read Erik Larson’s “The Splendid and the Vile,” which focuses on how Winston Churchill managed the stress of keeping people calm and carrying on throughout the Battle of Britain while trying to convince FDR that only U.S. support could defeat Hitler. The last thing Americans wanted was another foreign war. On August 9, 1940, with the Battle of Britain raging in the skies above England, Churchill begged his staff to write more concisely.

"To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points," the memo says.

I often think of Churchill’s advice and empathize with admissions readers who must make their way through thousands of essays, many of which are overwritten. A writer can tell a powerful story in 650 words that “tell” as per Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style,” or miss the point with abstractions, “college essay speak,” and words that add no meaning.

Students: learning to write more succinctly is simpler than you think--and totally worth it. Start with Hamilton College’s “The Seven Deadly Sins of Writing.”

Pamela Kwartler, Certified Educational Planner

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