I have written ten skinny books – each on a particular subject. The average number of words in my Skinny books is about 12,000.
The typical non-fiction book has approximately 75,000 words. And, each of my Skinny books is a compilation of about 25 books on the topic. So, if you do the math, you will see that each Skinny book summarizes and distills about 1.9 million words into 12,000 words.
How is this possible? WORD INFLATION by U.S. writers.
Over the last 100 years, writers have yielded to the following two pressures to write MORE NOT LESS:
- It is easier. Tightening your writing is very challenging. You have to labor over every word.
- It is hard to sell a book for $20 that is only 15,000 words. Publishers want bigger and longer.
Word inflation is the term that I use to describe the tendency to write more rather than less.
Did you know that the U.S. Constitution is only 4,500 words?
And yet, the typical lawyer’s brief (a written document explaining a lawyer’s position) is 14,000 words. Since there are usually two briefs on every matter (sometimes more), that means judges have to read 28,000 words (or more) to decide a legal principle that may have been described in 20 words or less. (NOTE: the Bar Association is trying to develop standards as to how many words attorneys can use in their briefs – what a relief if lawyers actually learn to communicate with less rather than more words).
What is equally frustrating is that studies have shown over and over that people learn better when there is less rather than more to read. For example, one study divided readers into two groups. The first group got a twenty page explanation of a scientific principle. The second group got a two-page summary. After everyone had finished reading, the two groups were given a test to see which group had a better understanding of the principle. And, as you probably guessed, the group that got the two-page summary had a much better comprehension.
Let me leave you with a story. One of the greatest judges in US legal history was Oliver Wendell Holmes. In writing a friend one day, he said “sorry for the length of this letter … it would have been much shorter if I had more time.”