Why people don’t read everything you write

Business readers are predictable. They usually read for information, not for pleasure. They are constantly under pressure from other demands that compete for their time.

The thoughtful writer tries to convey as much information as possible, accurately and as clearly as possible, in as little reading as possible.

Business reading is different to reading a novel. Don’t try to hold your readers in suspense. Get to the point fast. Often a reliable headline is all readers need. Readers are eager to put your document aside as soon as they decide they have all they need.

But the reader may put your document aside too soon. They may scan a report or memo quickly and decide “this doesn’t have anything for me”, and miss the most important point. Or the reader may find some good information, be pleased, then say (again wrongly) “OK good stuff. I don’t need the rest” and miss something even more important. The skillful writer needs to ensure that his or her really important information is received properly.

What is the one statement about which a writer would be willing to say: “It’s all right if my readers read nothing else”. That should appear at the beginning. And if it does, it may be truly all right if the reader reads nothing else.

In wanting to stop early, the reader is not lazy or irresponsible; it is simply that the reader is reading only for information, is busy, and is eager to receive important information quickly, then move on.

In business writing seek to maximise meaning, minimise reading.


Next time you write identify the one statement your readers must read to get your message. Put this at the beginning.

Some of these ideas have been adapted from Put it in writing by A Joseph.


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