Last week, we said that “short” is not what we really want, when we are looking for clearer, faster communication; when we want the reader to “get it” and to act on it now.
What we are looking for is “concise.” “Short” can cause you a lot of problems, cost you more time, and result in lost productivity. You need to anticipate the questions you must answer for your reader before he or she can do what you are asking him or her to do. “Concise” – providing the information your reader needs, in as short a space as possible – greatly increases the odds that you will get what you need at all, and probably much sooner.
The second part of this is to make your writing faster and easier to read.
We already talked about alternate formats, cover letters, and whether to pass along this information at all. See last week’s post here.
Here are three more things you can do:
1. Don’t ramble! Rambling is pointless, non-productive, and far too hard on your reader. It happens when the writer just starts to write, without a plan, or a pattern for what he or she is going to say, or in what order it will be said.
After you have decided that this information truly does need to be passed along, and passed along in writing, determine the following key elements before you put a finger to the keyboard:
• What are you writing? To whom? To inform? To persuade? Of what, or about what?
• What are the results you need to get from this piece? What must it accomplish? What is its job?
• With this reader, this content, and the needed results, what is the tone (the relationship the reader sets up, or reinforces with the reader) you will use?
• Finally, and only after you have considered these points, you are now ready to list what you are going to say. You will base this list on three things: (1) why your reader needs this specific piece of information; (2) how your reader will use this bit of information; and (3) whether this information is necessary to get the results you need. If a specific piece of information does not serve at least one of these three points, get rid of it. Stay laser-focused!
Now you are ready to organize effectively: You have a list of everything you need to say, and nothing else!
2. Organize your information in a logical sequence that will make it easier for your reader to follow what you are talking about. Four of these patterns could be: (1) flow from the first paragraph; (2) time; (3) procedural; or (4) most important first.
First, “flow from the first paragraph”: Sometimes there is a very logical “next step” to take, or “next thing” to say. It just seems to follow naturally. This is usually a good thing, and you can either write a good transition, or use an alternate format to set it up.
Second, “time”: Many of the things we will be writing about have either a time sequence, or are time sensitive. If this is the case, this organizational pattern can be a helpful choice.
Third, “procedural”: This organizational pattern fits – and indeed is critical – when discussing the order of the steps of a procedure.
Fourth, “most important first”: You will set up this organizational pattern in your first, or “lead” paragraph by foreshadowing, by order of importance, the issues you will discuss, and then discuss them in that order in the balance of the piece.
3. Ask yourself, “If I pulled a printout of this message from the file five years from now, assuming I had not been involved in it, would I know, from that first paragraph, what it was all about?”
So there you have it. Three more tips to “shorten” your written communication, and improve the results it produces.
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