A major performance and complexity limitation in broadband communications is the long channel delay spread which results in a highly-frequency-selective channel frequency response. Channel shortening equalizers (CSEs) are used to ensure that the cascade of a long channel impulse response (CIR) and the CSE is approximately equivalent to a target impulse response (TIR) with much shorter delay spread. In this paper, we propose a general framework that transforms the problems of design of sparse CSE and TIR finite impulse response (FIR) filters into the problem of sparsest-approximation of a vector in different dictionaries. In addition, we compare several choices of sparsifying dictionaries under this framework. Furthermore, the worst-case coherence of these dictionaries, which determines their sparsifying effectiveness, are analytically and/or numerically evaluated. Finally, the usefulness of the proposed framework for the design of sparse CSE and TIR filters is validated through numerical experiments.