In today’s fast-paced world of digital media and the frighteningly short “half life” of our social media posts, who has time to read a lengthy article?
I say, save your time and others’!
Not only should we get to the point sooner, and let the readers decide if they want more information. But we should definitely keep our number of key points low (only one or two). This gives the reader the ability to choose to spend time reading your entire article, or just the main idea. Being more ‘useful’ in this way can help your content be re-posted more, and be seen by more people.
In this, I believe that some online article writers should take a lesson from traditional news and business writers!
We’ve all seen those articles that are too long. Not only do they take commitment and persistence to read, but sometimes they will not make the main point clear. I recently read an online article from a well-recognized and respected newspaper (which I will not name here). It was disappointingly written. First, it was entirely too long. Second, after reading it, as an experiment, I gave it to a colleague to read; we both noted down what we saw as the Main Idea of the article. When we compared notes, we found that we had both identified different sections of the article as giving the main idea.
Do you think this article was effective in conveying what the author intended to convey?
How can we avoid this in our own writing?
Traditional Article Formats
Traditional print reporters were taught to write with an “inverted pyramid” Most articles follow a similar layout:
- Catchy title (to grab your attention)
- “Lead” – answers Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
- Details or facts (often including quotes)
- Additional background information
I can certainly see the logic behind this approach. First we grab attention with the title. Then, give important information (perhaps including an amusing anecdote). Next, present our facts (arguments, opinions, etc.). Then, summarize.
What are the benefits of using this format?
Business Writing Formats
Those of us who are familiar with business reports (such as marketing plans) will know that anything that is written for upper managers must have a standard format; the way I was taught, looks something like this:
- Executive Summary (including conclusions/recommendations)
- Introduction of background (or situation)
- Development of main theme (solution to a problem, marketing plan, etc.)
- Supporting evidence of the main theme
- Analysis of potential gains vs. potential losses
- Statement of conclusion or recommendations (optional)
- List of resources used (Bibliography, Appendices, etc.)
I would be willing to bet that many of you have seen reports that follow this format (if not exactly, then loosely). This format is very clear and seems like the obvious choice for use in business.
Why do you think this format is used for businesses?
(We’ll discuss my idea in the next section.)
What do both news articles and business writing have in common?
They both get to the point quickly. If you don’t want to read the entire thing, you can read only the first section! This gives the reader the ability to decide how much time he/she wants to devote to what you have to say. (This also has the added benefit of your writing being more “useful” and may increase the chance of it being re-posted.)
Who has time to read a lengthy article? And, if someone does, why should they waste that time on an article that isn’t what they were looking for?
With a little mindfulness, we could be saving each other time!
With this article, I ask all those who would write anything to consider the following points:
- Think of your audience…
- Determine how much time they have for what you have to say.
- Format your writing to accommodate your audience.
- Flip the standard format! Put your main point first.
- Put the background information, at the bottom, and give your reader the choice to read it or not!
Whether you’re writing an e-mail to a colleague, or writing a presentation for your manager, IMI can help you improve your written communication. Check out our Business Writing program on our website!