We’re all now “time-poor”.
It’s how we define ourselves when we’re faced with a barrage of things we’d rather avoid reading, replying to, or doing.
So how do you, as a business writer, cut through the noise?
Here are three business writing principles to help you write for the time-poor skim reader.
And to get faster and better replies.
Some basic maths here.
The average UK reader spends seven seconds reading something before they decide whether to read on.
And that same person reads at 225 words/minute.
That gives you 26 words to make an impact.
Read the first 26 words of the last email you wrote, or document you submitted.
Did it tell the reader why they should read on?
Or was it too easy for them to ‘mark as unread’ and save for later?
Here’s a simple tool to help you get to the point: we call it a Pyramid of Communication.
And it’s the number one business writing tool in Scotland.
Ask yourself three questions:
That means the number one point will always be the most relevant to the audience.
The second point will be the second most relevant, and so on.
Now cut the Pyramid off earlier than you feel you should to ensure brevity, and test out how quickly people respond.
If you’ve structured it properly, you’ll get faster replies and greater interest in the detail.
Online press releases are great examples.
Look at this one from Easyjet – all you need to know in the first two paragraphs.
And contrast it with this one from its competitor, TUI UK, where you’ll feel your attention drifting more easily.
So let’s dispense with sentences that start with “furthermore” and “following on from”.
Get to the point, quickly.
Any online newspaper worth its ink will realise the importance of “digital real estate”.
In other words, the value of the screen space made up of the article, images and adverts, and how they appear on different devices.
But few of us consider our own business writing in the same way.
How do you create the equivalent of the “golf sale” sandwich board, pointing the reader to exactly where you want them to look?
The answer is simple: persuasive headlines.
First of all, decide where you want your headless to go, and how they’ll look.
For example, you’ll see in this blog that we asked you to read seven lines before introducing a new headline.
But you may also notice that each headline summarises a benefit to you.
It’s different to informative headlines, which draw out key words or phrases to summarise a longer point.
They persuade you to think in a certain way.
Let’s say, for example, you decide to pitch flexible working to your boss.
You may decide to use headlines to draw their attention to key points, such as:
But remember that these headlines may be all the skim-reader sees and remembers.
So use them persuasively instead to build your case:
“Flexibility for working parents”
“More productive teams”
Subtly, you’re convincing your audience of your point, one headline at a time.
Here are some final sentences I often see in business writing in Scotland, whether it’s an email, report or speech:
“The Board is required to note the information in this report.”
“We are calling on the Scottish Government to do more to tackle [insert area].”
“Please let me know your thoughts when you get a chance.”
These weak calls to action hardly inspire change.
Your Call to Action should be in the mould of Henry V pre-Agincourt, or Al Pacino in Every Given Sunday.
It has to tie together two things:
One: an indisputable fact, which summarises the problem.
And two: a solution that is only achievable now.
Back to flexible working, for example:
“Four in five workers in Scotland say their next career move will be defined by their ability to work from home.
“To keep hold of our best people, we need to change our policy now and communicate it ahead of our planned return to full-time office working in June.”
A powerful fact shining light on the problem, and a closing door of opportunity to get rid of it.
You can learn more about our business writing courses here.
We’ve been running them virtually since the start of the pandemic, and they’ll resume face-to-face in June 2021.
You can also buy our Business Writing e-learning course here to get ahead of the competition today.
Photos in Business Writing Scotland blog by Pink Elephant Communications.
Featured photo in Business Writing Scotland blog by Pexels.
Business Writing Scotland blog edited by Colin Stone.
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