What is the difference between being concise and performing with precision? The former is often applied in the universe of words and communication; the latter, in areas where quantitative measuring tools can be determined, such as in science or in mathematical sectors.
We say of a person who speaks voluminously but with little substance that he or she represents the antonym of conciseness; and so a comparison is often made between volume spoken or written and concepts or thoughts conveyed. Of Literature, most would agree that Hemingway is the representative paradigm of conciseness, whereas Joyce and Faulkner reflect the very opposite, though all three are considered classic and great authors.
Do we excuse such authors as Joyce and Faulkner because, in literature, we tend to focus upon the stylistic brilliance of their writings as opposed to the “meaning” that captures the undercurrent of their works? In other words, although they may give us “too many” words and thus are, by definition, lacking of conciseness, we nevertheless overlook such imprecision precisely because we do not attribute “amount” as the necessary and sufficient cause of determining the worth of good authorship.
Hemingway used to say that, in writing, he had already formulated each sentence before setting it upon paper, whether in handwriting (a lost art) or at the typewriter (a manual, when those contraptions existed and where the clack-clack of metal keys pounded deep into the twilight of a writer’s life).
Why do we applaud and celebrate the concise sentence? Does it make a difference whether or not a sentence, say, with 7 words communicates a thought as opposed to a paragraph with a thousand words that conveys the identical conceptual construct?
Take the following 2 examples: 1. Lessening of debt equals wealth. Or, 2: If you have less to owe to others, then it is the same as savings; or, as Benjamin Franklin used to say, a penny saved is a penny earned, and the reality of it all is that we have more to spend and retain wealth, not so much because you have more money, but you have more because less is spent on paying other people your hard-earned dollars.
Now, both sentences convey essentially the same meaning. The first one, however, is comprised of 5 words. The second one took…many words to communicate the same thought. Does it matter whether a concise sentence is used, as opposed to one that is not, if the same two convey identically reflective thoughts?
It might make a difference, because of one factor that has not been discussed: Being concise often possesses the added feature of being precise, and precision is important in the accuracy of conveying thought.
For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who are thinking about preparing, formulating and filing an effective Federal Disability Retirement application, to be submitted to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, there is a dual-key component to preparing the SF 3112A, Applicant’s Statement of Disability: Be concise, but do not forego length for completeness.
In other words, being concise in order to convey the proper information is important; but, at the same time, do not sacrifice wordiness just because of the limited “boxes” that are provided on SF 3112A.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire
Postal & Federal Employee Attorney