Still water

The Axios Smart Brevity format is an act of compassion

When I’m working as a digital producer, I try to remember what I like and dislike as a digital consumer.

This link between content creator and content consumer should be obvious, but you’d be surprised how often it’s neglected. Something happens during the content creation process that makes smart people with considerable skill introduce unhelpful attributes to their content projects.

The folks behind Axios understand this disconnect, and they work hard to make sure it doesn’t happen. They’ve developed an entire methodology–dubbed “Smart Brevity”–to ensure their content provides the best content and experience.

Here’s how Axios describes the Smart Brevity approach in their manifesto:

If you think about your evolving habits for consuming news and information, you realize you have less time, and a shorter attention span. Our content, our ads and our platforms are designed specifically to adjust to these new habits and demands. We aim to make the experience more substantive and meaningful — and therefore more valuable. When we pull this off, it will free people up to spend time on content truly WORTHY of their time, on our platform or elsewhere.

Take a look at this Axios post. This is the work of an organization that acknowledges and embraces the way people consume online content. They’re working with the web, not against it.

The whole article is less than 450 words. People might say they read every bit of your 3,000-word essays, but that’s not accurate. Axios accepts and applies this reality.

The lede of this piece gets right to the point. No exposition. Nothing frivolous. I’ve found in recent years that I often skip the first two to three paragraphs of online articles because they’re full of arbitrary context and questionable data points. But I don’t skip Axios’ introductory material because it’s almost always straightforward and useful.

Axios posts are built to be scannable. Many of the paragraphs start with a few bolded words that set the stage for the information to come. These are the bolded phrases in the sample piece:

  • Why it matters
  • State of play
  • Some other delivery companies
  • Similarly
  • Yes, but
  • Be smart
  • The bottom line

The bolded text transports you to the salient points of the article. That isn’t just useful. It’s thoughtful.

(Also–and this addresses a pet peeve–Axios indents bulleted and numbered lists. I don’t understand why so many sites and themes wipe out list padding. The padding is there for a reason. It makes the list easier to read.)

Smart Brevity applies to Axios’ newsletters as well. Here’s an example. The newsletter is comprehensive, but still accessible and inviting. This style reflects an interesting middle ground for newsletters: Not so short as to seem shallow but not so dense as to feel like homework.

One last thing (and no, I’m not above “borrowing” a good idea): While I’m sure Smart Brevity contributes to traffic and engagement, what I find most impressive about it is that it carries an inherent respect for the audience. In many ways, the Smart Brevity format is an act of compassion.

Image by Dimitri Houtteman from Pixabay.