OK, so you’re not a mind-reader. But to write well in a business context, you do have to have some insight into what your readers want.
Here’s the good news
The good news is, you DO have a very good general idea of what business readers want, so that’s a strong start.
Because you ARE a business reader. And that’s the trick to successful documents and emails at work.
DON’T assume the people you’re writing to want different things.
Don’t assume the rules are different.
Don’t assume, just because they’re higher up the food chain (for example), that for some reason the rules are just magically different for them.
You don’t want #corporatewankspeak. Nor do they.
You don’t want, long, waffly, unintelligible documents. Nor do they.
So here are 4 things you can really safely assume about your readers within a business context, because these 4 things are also true for you!
The 4 things ALL business readers want
1. They’re busy – so it needs to be concise and punchy.
Think about how YOU behave with a long email or a long document.
You might put it off till later. You might decide not to read it at all, and hope someone else fills you in later. Or you might pick up the phone instead of reading it.
At the very least you’ll skim it, hoping to find the key points – but you won’t find them if they’re hidden in pages of narrative and detail.
Being busy and time-poor is something that is true of ALL BUSINESS READERS.
So if you would appreciate an email or report that gets to the point, fast, and makes more info accessible but doesn’t get in the way of the main points, you really can trust that your reader wants the same thing.
I’ve never had a CEO or a board member tell me they prefer long, wordy documents.
2. They have questions, and they’re looking for the answers – so help them find the answers. FAST.
When you open an email or have a document on your screen, why do you read it?
Because you want to know something – or some things.
At the very least when you read an email you want to know how it’s relevant to you – do you need to do anything?
You reader is EXACTLY THE SAME. They come to a document or email with questions.
Your job is to try to make educated assumptions about what those questions are, and ANSWER THEM FIRST.
Yes, seriously, FIRST.
Don’t give pages of background or context or scope or purpose or definitions or preamble!!!
Yes, I KNOW that’s what we’ve always done.
But remember – this is about writing in a way that acknowledges the reality of the reader experience. And when you’re faced with pages of those things at the beginning of a document, YOU SKIP THEM.
So why are we playing this ridiculous game?
I know you think there are things you have to tell your reader so they’ll understand the findings, or the recommendations, or the actions, or whatever, but the simple fact is, they’ll skim/skip/ignore anything until their questions are answered.
GIVE them the answers to their questions first, and then TRUST that they’ll read the rest of the document so they can understand the justification for those answers.
Also, see point 3.
3. They WON’T read that email/report/proposal like a novel, from beginning to end – they’ll jump around.
Make the document easy to navigate at a glance.
You want to renovate your kitchen. You get 3 quotes/proposals. Do you read ANY of the words/pages/sales pitch before you find the quoted price?
Ah – NO.
You skip everything until you find the price.
If you think you have to write a document in a certain order so the reader will read it in a certain order, you’re mistaken. #sorrynotsorry
No matter how much you want to believe that your reader will read 10 pages about the experience and values of your company and the quality methods and materials you’ll use and why they should pick you over your competitors, no one – AND I MEAN NO-ONE – will read any of that until they’ve found the price of your quote.
When reading for pleasure, sure, we’ll read from page 1 and work our way through.
When reading in business, we simply don’t.
So like I said in point 2, answer the reader’s questions first.
AND ALSO, make it super easy to navigate the document. Clear, descriptive, statement and question headings. A clear structure and hierarchy of heading levels (and formatting).
When a reader can easily find what they are looking for, they’re more likely to engage with more of the document.
Frustration levels stay low. Readers stay more open-minded.
4. They’ll skim read – so use visual tools and cues.
Guess what? It’s not just you!
You’re not just a lazy reader. WE ALL SKIM-READ. Well, 98% of us in a business setting do, anyway.
So you can very safely assume your reader will skim read that document. And what makes things skim-readable?
Headings. Descriptive ones. Statement and question headings that don’t require interpretation.
And subheadings – the same. Use them, a lot of them, and use them well – conversationally.
Bullets. Tables. Formatting conventions that “train” your reader to understand things like,
When text is indented and italicised, it’s a quote.
See how that works?
Physically lean back from a document and look at it from a distance. How much white space is there and how easy is it to differentiate the various levels of headings?
You’re just not that special.
Look, I love you and all. You’re amazing. Very unique (please laugh).
But when it comes to reader behaviour and the psychology of how humans engage with text, you’re just not special.
And that’s great news.
Because you can connect with the very real experience of what it’s like to open a waffly email or a document that is just SUCH HARD WORK to read.
Remember to trust:
What you want as a reader, your readers also want.
There is a better way to communicate.
If you’re working from home, you’re emailing. And in this chaos, no-one has time for email ping-pong!
What if your emails could be skillfully on point, EVERY SINGLE TIME?
Use my never-fail formula to build connections with empathy and authenticity.
You’ll quickly be writing professional, clear, concise, fit-for-purpose emails that will:
- save time and sanity
- deal with customer complaints quickly and with humanity
- retain clients and smash deadlines
- get better results, faster replies
- more YESes, less chasing-up, and enjoy easier business relationships
It will rock your world! Simple as that.