PreRamble: While a very well worn cliche, the term “in a nutshell” is still a good way to think about communications.
According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, “in a nutshell” is defined as, 1) “the shell enclosing the meat of a nut,” … and 2) “in a few words; concisely; just the basic facts.”
In many cases, communicating a message effectively begins with giving a brief summary of the overall concept to pique interest and orient the listener to the more in-depth information that is to come.
The “in a nutshell” strategy is used in many familiar realms:
- Thumbnail sketch – finished masterpiece
- CliffsNotes – whole book
- Movie trailer – feature length film
- Executive summary – full proposal
- Elevator speech – resume
- Taste – meal
- “The Universe in a Nutshell” by Stephen Hawking (2001) – PhD in theoretical physics
Not that we come in contact with many nutshells these days (whoever came up with the bagged, shelled, chopped, ready-to-add-to-stuff walnuts was a genius) … however, pondering the nutshell concept leads one to wonder how much information would actually fit into a standard-size nutshell (shown below)? … … Depending on the font size, I’m thinking a couple of short sentences, tops.
The Take-Away: Articulating the quick “in a nutshell” gist of a concept, project or complex document is an important, foundational step in developing your work and communicating about it to others.