How to write Writing

Writing less: optimise the algorithm not the code

Subscribe to Email Updates

Writing less: pen writing code on piece of paper

Back when I used to be a programmer, I quickly learned that you could get a much bigger performance boost by changing the algorithm – the underlying structure of the code and data – than by optimising the code. Great writing requires the same approach to structure and efficiency. 

better business writing

For example, you could rewrite an inner loop in assembler rather than C and get a 20% speed-up but it would take a lot of work and be difficult to maintain. Changing the way you did it, for example, using a more efficient sort algorithm or a smarter data structure would produce a 100% speed-up. It would also be easier to support, comment, bug fix and update.

Similarly, if you dropped a feature, you could drop the code for that feature. Non-existent code doesn’t crash, doesn’t require testing, doesn’t need a manual, doesn’t need comments or maintenance. In fact, non-existent code is the best code there is. It forces you to focus on the stuff that makes the game fun rather than the code that adds unnecessary or distracting features.

The writer's code

It’s the same today with writing:

  • Focus your efforts on the most important points and delete the rest.

  • Change the way you structure a piece before you start trying to polish individual sentences.

  • To reduce word count, cut paragraphs first, then sentences and only then cut words.

  • Don’t chase features. Chase meaning.

Writing less is harder than it sounds. You need to cut the quantity, not the quality. Setting out with a clear plan of what you want to say is the easiest way to avoid verbosity and waffle. Adopt a coder's mindset to keep things simple and efficient.

better business writing


Matthew Stibbe

Matthew is founder and CEO of Articulate Marketing.