Everything you need on one sheet of A4

Earlier this month I wrote about apostrophes and noted that you can summarize all the rules about them on a single sheet of A4 (or Letter sized paper if you’re in the US). You can read whole books about grammar and spelling but everything you need to know about apostrophes can be summarized on one or two sides of A4. The same applies with the steps that allow you to calculate the day of the week from any date in history, which I wrote about back in January, here (“How to work out the day of the week from any date”).

Sometimes the single sheet of paper that tells you all that you need to know about a subject works best as a reminder of something that you have already learnt. It might not be the best way to learn the steps but it will help you to remember what you have been taught.

Many years ago I heard an interview with the late Richie Benaud in which he discussed the advice he gave to young cricketers. Benaud was a great cricketer (he captained Australia, bowled leg spin and scored 3 Test centuries), an excellent journalist and probably the greatest sports commentator of my lifetime. After the 1960s leg spin bowling became a lost art in Australia until Shane Warne’s success in the 1990s. As a teenager Warne had sought Benaud’s advice and was given the same thing as every other young bowler before him: a single piece of paper folder over to make four sides (the equivalent of 2 or 4 sides of A4, depending on the size of the print). It wasn’t a 300-page book, or a set of coaching manuals, or several hours of video tape. It was a single piece of paper.

It contained all the advice that Warne, or any other bowler, needed to become a leg spin bowler. It takes several years to master all of the steps contained in Benaud’s short document. The first step was “develop your stock ball”, in other words learn how to bowl the delivery that you will use 4 or 5 times in every 6-ball over. This takes most young leg spinners 3-4 years. Warne achieved it in less than 2 years and could then concentrate on all the other techniques (sliders, flippers, googlies and so on) summarized on that single piece of paper.

For some advice you might not need a whole sheet of paper. Healthy eating can be summarized in the following 7 words from Michael Pollan: “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much”. (The word “food” in this case refers to things that your grandparents or great-grandparents would recognize as food, so things like cheese string, pop tarts and pot noodle wouldn’t count.) I remember reading that advice in the Guardian (in this piece, early in 2008) and have never gone as far as buying and reading any of Pollan’s books. I probably should, and maybe this will prompt me to explore his “In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating” but the succinctness of his advice has put paid to that so far. After writing about Micromorts and Microlives earlier this month I did read “The Norm Chronicles” to learn more (summarized here) but the most valuable information that I took from those 328 pages (including endnotes) can also be summarized on a single sheet of A4 paper.


One thought on “Everything you need on one sheet of A4

  1. There are many non-fiction books I am quite interested in but not interested in enough to read 250+ pages. In the past I have read plenty of authors that labour the point to increase their page count. I assume there are good publishing reasons for this either in terms of perceived value for money or maybe even economies of scale.

    One of my hopes for the ebook format was that it would allow for short books that credit the reader with some brains, get to the point quickly, give you a few examples and a takeaway summary (one page of A4 perhaps?). This does seem to have happened in some genres but it appears these are mostly self publishers. I think there is scope to publish two versions of a book. The usual 250+ pages edition and a much more succinct edition with perhaps 1/4 of the pages (or less). Time is money, so the concise edition would cost more than the full edition. I would pay more to get the information concisely rather than pay less and have to wade though somewhat unnecessary material.

    The idea of paying more for convenience is already established in the world of Amazon when the ebook can sometimes cost more than the paperback even though the creation and distribution of an ebook is essentially free. I just looked up John Grisham’s Rogue Lawyer on amazon.co.uk. The paperback is 3.00GBP (delivered tomorrow with Prime membership), the Kindle edition is 4.99GBP available to you instantly and readable on many devices.


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