Friday, 23 March 2012

If you can't say it short, it's probably best not to say it at all

If this is a short post, that’s by design and not accident. 

Pascal once wrote ‘I'm sorry to have written you such a long letter; I didn't have time to write a short one’. Writing well, but short, is my driving aspiration, however mixed my success in achieving it.

Some epochal documents have, after all, been strikingly concise. The Constitution of the United States has been the rock foundation of a system of government now into its third century and which, for all its failings, has prospered and guaranteed a surprising measure of freedom. 

The Consitution is 7000 words long and took four and half months to draft.

It drew much of its inspiration from another text nearly six centuries older, Magna Carta. The Charter remains the foundation document of many legal systems around the world, not because its provisions have survived, but because it sustains the principle of the rule of law itself. 

Magna Carta is 3000 words long and took less than five days to draft.

Magna Carta: concise and to the point and it resonates down the ages
So it’s curious that the present British government has taken 22 months to enact its Health and Social Care Bill. It is 16,500 words long. It is confused and potentially extremely damaging to the NHS. The vast majority of clinicians and healthcare managers find it toxic, as do their professional associations. The groundswell in the electorate against the measure is only likely to grow as the consequences of its adoption this week become clear.

The moral of this story? If it takes you a long time to find the right words, you’re probably saying the wrong thing.

And for the rest of us? When the government starts pouring out the verbiage, take cover. The bullshit’s about to turn into a torrent, and what comes behind is likely to be a lot worse.

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