Of course, at the same time not going short on clarity.
“I made this [letter] very long only because I have not had the leisure to make it shorter” (Blaise Pascal)
Torrey Podmajersky is one of those writing words inside Microsoft products. A couple of examples from him on writing using fewer words (lightly edited from here):
Microsoft product example:
Here is an example where a teacher has just created a new class in Microsoft Classroom. There are a bunch of permissions that help keep the school system secure and running smoothly, and those take a while to complete. But we don’t want to show the teacher a blank screen! So we initially wrote:
Screenshot of Microsoft Classroom in-progress design. Screen text says “Making something special takes time! We’re working to get your classes ready. Please check back soon.”
(These images are from design drafts. Microsoft Classroom is currently in preview.)
The title could be read at least two ways: We either are demonstrating enthusiasm that the teacher’s class is special! Or, we are defensive that it’s taking so long! The text communicates to the teacher what’s happening: we’re working to get your classes ready. It will take an indeterminate amount of time, but isn’t immediate – unavoidable, on our side: the delay time depends on how their school set up their system. We’ll just get the class data back when the system is ready.
So here’s the text I recommended:
Screenshot of Microsoft Classroom in-progress design, after I reduced the words. Screen text says “Almost ready…”
There’s no more information to tell the teacher except that it will be ready soon. There’s nothing they can do but wait, and check back later.
Teachers are astoundingly short on time. Why make them read more? We don’t have to tell teachers that their classes are special, nor that our product will be special.
Life or death example: Airplane safety placard
I’ve never been in an airplane as it made a water landing. But I have told flight attendants that I would be willing to open the emergency door, if I were asked to.
I’ve even imagined being in that state: panicked, but still alive; adrenaline coursing; heart pounding. Even as a word-savvy person, this is not the moment I’ll stop, read, and understand with great clarity.
On a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, I took this picture of the door:
Interior door of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, where a label says “VISUALLY ENSURE THE MODE SELECT HANDLE IS FULLY INSIDE THE RED PLACARD FOR ARMED AND GREEN PLACARD FOR DISARMED”
The label on the door has 19 words: “Visually ensure the mode select handle is fully inside the red placard for armed and green placard for disarmed”
My rewrite uses 11 words…
…but this gets dangerous. Personally and professionally, I have no idea what it means for a door to be armed or disarmed. I estimate that 99% of people on a commercial 787 flight don’t know, either. If I were a UX writer for Boeing, I’d ask: What should most people understand when they read these words? Could we label the red and green areas directly, and serve people who are red/green colorblind, too?
Using fewer words isn’t a panacea to fix every user experience; it’s just one guideline, together with all the others employed by excellent writers, designers, developers, program managers, and researchers. It’s how UX writers reduce the text to create experiences that let people to do more of what they want to do — not waste their time reading explanations of how to do it.