Why good readers may not read all your text

‘Just tell me what you’ve gotta tell me, clear and straight, and get to the point fast.’ John Wayne (in The Sands of Iwo Jima)

Reading for purpose

Business readers read for information, not for pleasure.

They are usually busy and eager to put your document aside as soon as they can, after they have all the information they need. Often a reliable headline is all readers need.

Maximum meaning, minimum reading

In choosing not to read an entire document, the reader is not lazy or irresponsible; they are reading only for information. They are eager to get information quickly and then move on.

So, don’t hold your readers in suspense. Get to the point fast. Convey as much information as possible, accurately and clearly, in as little reading as possible.

Start with the conclusion

Have your point at the beginning, and then support and explain it throughout the rest of your document it. Never make readers wonder, “What are you getting at?”. (There are some exceptions, but generally it’s unwise to place the most important information near the end.)

The lift (elevator) door statement

When really pressed, like when talking with someone while waiting for the lift door to open, we can usually condense our message to a single statement.

Find the one statement about which you could say: “It’s all right if my readers read nothing else”. That statement should appear at the beginning. It may truly be OK if the reader does read nothing else.

Leading the reader along the path

It is always easier to grasp an argument if you are told the conclusion first. Even if the reader will read every word in detail, they will read better if they have the conclusion first.

Without a summary statement overview, the reader’s brain receives isolated bits of information and does not know what to do with them until the end. An overview helps the reader understand the details better. This is not so much a principle of writing as it is of learning.

This approach is different to that learnt by most of us in school. The structure we used then was usually:

….. therefore

….. therefore

conclusion.

 However, readers generally find this structure much easier:

conclusion

because…..

because…..

 

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