T. PIERCE BROWN
As I was thinking of trying to compose an appropriately short article for this journal, I picked up an article written by Moses Lard written about 130 years ago. Although I appreciate his tremendous ability, scholarship, knowledge and insights, I do not hesitate to disagree with many of his conclusions, although they are always worth considering. The following are some direct statements from his article.
Why should it be thought that all articles for periodicals ought to be short? No sensible answer can be given. Even when articles are bad it will never do to say that they should be short. In that case, they should not appear at all. But the shorter the article, we are told, the greater is the number who will read it. Be it so: is the reason good? I hold that it is not only not good, but that is bad, utterly so. He who reads an article ten pages long, provided it is equally as good as an article one page long, has of course derived from his reading ten times more benefit than he who reads one page, and is consequently that much better qualified for usefulness. There is no such thing as defending short articles over long ones, except on the ground that long articles are necessarily not as good for their length as short ones–a position which is certainly false.
Clearly the length of an article should be determined by the nature of the subject of which it treats. If the subject were one of great magnitude, the article should have corresponding length. Again, the length of an article must depend very much upon the manner in which the subject handled in it is to be treated, whether generally or minutely.
Reading short articles, in a few minutes, has several bad effects upon the mind, one or two of which I shall here point out. It helps to form the habit of giving to every subject only a brief superficial view. No habit is of more fatal to deep, accurate knowledge than this.
He does admit that the character of the publication in which the article is to appear will help to determine how long the article should be. I think we may agree, in general, with almost every statement he makes and still contend for the great value in short articles, without in any way denying that some subjects must be dealt with in greater length in order to do justice to them. One of the purposes of this publication is to provide a wide variety of thoughts on many different subjects, and not necessarily to provide an in-depth study of every subject. It is admitted, no doubt, both by the editor and all the staff, that in many cases, long and detailed studies are needed, and there is a danger that if we become too accustomed to reading in such a fashion as to merely skim the surface, we will never spiritually mature.
There is a great value in writing short articles that brother Lard did not mention. It helps the writer to discipline his mind to more concisely and with greater clarity make his point, whereas he might otherwise take 10 pages to say what he could more aptly say in two. It can therefore help the reader to see the truth more clearly without having to wade through more pages of excess verbiage. Some reasons for writing this article are to encourage writers to learn to say what needs to be said as concisely as possible, to encourage readers to use the limited remarks to cause them to do more in-depth study on their own, and to point out that even as wonderful a scholar as Moses Lard can only present a portion of the truth in any article. Learn to take the good from any writer without being committed to let him be the authority on which you depend.