Nobody reads anything anymore. Here’s what that means for your writing.

Sam Duncan
2 min readJul 22, 2022


When Jim VandeHei’s article went viral, he learned something that made him leave his prestigious career as a journalist.

After more than a decade plugging away at the keyboard, the success of Jim’s article about Obama for the Wall Street Journal should’ve been cause for celebration.

But looking at the readership data, Jim saw three things that left him in dismay:

  1. The majority of people sharing the article hadn’t actually read it
  2. Of those who did click through, most didn’t make it past the first page (out of four).
  3. The average reading time was just a few seconds — barely long enough to skim the headlines.

In short, his article went viral…

But no-one actually read it.

Jim was ready to give up writing all-together.

But instead, he went on to start a successful media company teaching leaders to communicate more effectively using one simple concept:

Smart Brevity

Smart Brevity acknowledges that the world has changed in three ways:

  1. We are swamped with huge amounts of information every day
  2. We are perpetually distracted, context switching and trying to multi-task
  3. As a result, we mostly don’t read: we skim.

What does this mean?

It means that we read differently now.

And so we need to write differently too.

Jim VandeHei has taught fortune 100 CEOs and presidential speechwriters the new rules of communication, which he calls the Smart Brevity formula.

Here are three principles Jim suggests all writers, leaders and communicators use to write for greater impact.

1. Reverse communicate

What does the audience want to get from this article? And how long do they want to spend to get it?

We often write what we want to, at a length that suits us.

Great communicators write audience-first. They take the camera and flip it from themselves, to the audience. It’s selfless, and it works.

2. Grab me

Write better headlines, subject lines, and opening lines.

Great communicators spend 80% of their writing time improving their first few lines.

Competition for attention is at an all time high and distractions are everywhere.

Grab me and get to the point — quick!

3. Stop

Stop before you add more. What’s the one thing you want people to take away from your article or email?

One point is better than two. Less words are better than more.

I’m making one point here: people read differently, so we need to write more simply. It’s hard, but it works.

And now I’m going to stop.