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14 June 2022
The Principle of One
When I make a slide deck for a new presentation, invent a new domain name, think about a name for a new Java class, itemize bullet points in an academic paper, even write an email—I try to follow a simple principle which helps me make my content more solid. Well, at least I believe it does. Maybe it will help you as well. The principle is simple: at all costs, try to squeeze the content into one word, one sentence, one paragraph, or one page.
A more formal definition of the principle would be this: it’s either one word/sentence/paragraph/page or way more. Let’s see an example. Say I need to list my plans for tomorrow:
- write a new article
- send an email to my boss
- cook a dinner
- take a nap
Do any of them need to be longer than one word? Not really. “Take a nap” is just three words, as is “cook a dinner”. On the one hand, three might not be considered “way more” than one. On the other, they could be shortened without any loss of meaning. Thus, I have to decide whether to make them all much longer than one word or shorten them all to a single one. The second choice is always preferable:
I wrote about compound variable names in an earlier post: the same principle is applicable to them. Variables must either be nouns without any other words around them, or use many more words, which is an exceptional situation.
In another blog post about resumes I mentioned that a good CV must take exactly one page. If it’s more, it should be many more. But definitely not two or three pages.
I suggest applying this principle to every piece of content you write: try to squeeze it into one.