5 Reasons to aim for brevity

Getting the Best of Your DissertationA good writing practice is the foundation of good writing. A good practice is built on regular action, and depends on the ideas or perspectives that lead to effective action. When planning a writing project, one effective idea is to aim for brevity: keep your work short.

The following is a slightly edited excerpt from my book, Getting the Best of Your Dissertation: Practical Perspectives for Effective Research:

Aim for Brevity

Pragmatically speaking, it’s usually less work to write a shorter draft. I suggest aiming your drafts—especially early drafts—at a fraction of the expected total. There are five additional reasons to keep your draft targets short:

  1. If you write a short draft and it’s accepted, then you have moved more quickly toward completion.
  2. It’s typically much easier to add material to a short draft than it is to remove material from a draft that is too long. When adding, what is needed is to find a place to insert the material, which can often be done without significant revisions to the rest of the draft. When removing material, however, it may be necessary to rewrite large portions of the work in order to remove material that is intertwined with the larger body of the work.
  3. In my experience, it is much more common to over-shoot a length target than it is to come in under it.
  4. There is greater psychological ease in aiming for a shorter target: it is both easier and less intimidating to work on a shorter paper.
  5. It’s better to be brief and leave your reader wanting more than to overwhelm your reader with material. If nothing else, a short work gives your reader fewer opportunities to find that you have made a mistake. In general, the absence of some specific issue from a well focused work is less likely to cause a reader to doubt your abilities than an overabundance of material that is only tangentially significant.

More could be said, but an argument in favor of brevity should be short!


Dave Harris, Ph.D. seeks clarity in thought and expression. As a coach, he helps writers develop a good relationship with their research writing and a successful writing practice. As an editor, he helps writers develop, focus, and finish the written presentation of research. He is author of Getting the Best of Your Dissertation (Thought Clearing, 2015) and second author with Jean-Pierre Protzen of The Universe of Design: Horst Rittel’s Theories of Design and Planning (Routledge, 2010). Dave can be found on the web at www.thoughtclearing.com


The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Textbook & Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.