Thomas Jefferson’s Literary Advice

The most valuable of talents is never using two words when one will do. – Thomas Jefferson

An Example: The Declaration of Independence, First Paragraph

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Granted, Jefferson’s sentence is longer that those most twenty-first century authors write. It’s eighty-one words. Despite its length, though, every word is strong and counts toward clarity. The sentence length is just part of his literary style. That’s what being concise means: using strong words that make it easy for readers to understand a writer’s message. In other words—CLARITY.

Modern writers do well to abide by Jefferson’s sound advice. For tips on how to do this, visit my blog series, “Cut the Clutter.”

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