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Less is More

It Indeed is.

September 12, 2015

People often say that writing is subjective. You read an article, and like it, while at the same time, when I read the same article, I may not like it. It is subjective in a way that when people talk about a work face to face, they seldom judge it, but rather, give praise and say good things about it. However, you do hear people distinguish between a “masterpiece” and an “ordinary work”. What is the difference? What are the objective parts of writing?

If we consider writing as a mean to communicate, we find another thing that actually has the same goal – programming – instead of communicating with a person, you communicate with a computer. However, programming is rather objective. You know when programming works – it is when the program runs. At the same time, you can also hear people comparing two programs with the same functionality, and deciding that one of them is better than the other. They are using Occam’s Razor – it is always better to write a shorter version of the program if it has the same functionality – or we can say, less is more.

The same applies to writing. When you write, you first need to consider the reader – it can be just you, or your future self, or as general as all the people on the earth. You then need to make the work valid –that it is able to communicate the idea you want to say. Last but not least, you need to make the communication efficient and short – it is always better to write a shorter version of your writing, if it results in the exact same echo in the reader’s mind – just enough details, but not redundant.

When writing, one of the hard problems is to make the work valid – you are able to write down what you want to say. You need to consider how far away you are from the reader – the inferential steps required. For example, when writing a private journal, or a diary, it is usually enough to just write down keywords because additional inferential steps are seldom needed. However, when writing a public article, the right amount of inferential steps is really important – if you have too many inferential steps, the experienced readers would go away; and if you have too little, the inexperienced readers would not understand.

Writing is a “verb”. People usually do not write on the purpose of wishing a linguist would rediscover your work a thousand years later. You share your thoughts with people who are alive. And when you consider the beauty of a work, remember that less is actually more, but still, keep it long enough so that your readers would understand.