Confession time: I’m a serial rambler.
It’s true. When there’s a multitude of critical information to absorb and distill into communications messaging, my tendency is to explore the space, list all pertinent information, and leave no detail unaccounted for.
Trim the fat? Please. My concern is to provide more than enough substance to ensure everyone is nourished and satiated. I’m wordy and love to run on.
The problem is it’s easy to get carried away, and chances are your colleagues have neither the time nor the interest to read an email or cover note that’s rife with excessive information. In fact, it’s likely your colleagues don’t want to read anything you write. Not because they’re mean, but because everyone has busy schedules and workloads to manage. Brevity is key. Deep down, we’re all fans of practicing mindful word economy, whether we know it or not.
This recent article from The New York Times drives this point home and wonderfully provides tips on how we can improve our writing in the workplace to ensure colleagues will actually read and respond to it. These helpful tips, provided by author Aaron Orendorff, include:
Orendorff states that the less we write, the more valuable our writing becomes. Evaluate your writing accordingly, and make your audience miss what you have to offer.
“The principle of scarcity indicates that people want more of what they can have less of,” said Robert Cialdini, Regents’ professor emeritus of psychology at Arizona State University and author of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”
“Things that are rare, scarce, dwindling in availability become more attractive as a consequence of perceived value.”
Orendorff points out that literary greats such as William Shakespeare, George Orwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway all ascribed to the ethos that “less is more,” while more recent scientific research has supported this notion.
“We long for clarity, for other people to say what they mean in as few, short words as possible. Thankfully, there are a handful of easy ways to start mastering brevity,” Orendorff writes.
For those needing to bring about action from an email correspondence, it’s important to first tell your recipients what’s expected right up front. This can be accomplished by briefly stating the desired action in the subject line.
For example, “Instead of, ‘Agenda for Tuesday,’ use, ‘PLEASE COMMENT: Agenda for Tuesday.’ Rather than, ‘Budget Attached,’ write, ‘APPROVAL FOR ITEMS 9-12: Budget Attached.’”
Ever draft an email and leave the most important sentence at the end? I’m often guilty of this transgression. To combat this, Orendorff takes a page from writer Anne Lamott and suggests writing a few drafts of your email. Then, flip the order by taking the final sentence and moving it to the top.
“Rather than building to the request — and risk muddling the meaning — this inversion forces us to lead with the need,” he writes. “After that, you’ll often find much of the rest can be removed.”
This last tip can be most critical. It’s easy to write an email while focusing on what you need from the recipient. But Orendorff encourages writers to pause and ask themselves, “What’s in it for them?” It can help to incorporate your recipient in “a shared identity.”
“When seeking assistance or buy-in, we typically ask colleagues for their ‘opinion.’ Turns out, that’s a mistake. Asking for an opinion produces a critic. It separates ‘me’ from ‘you’ by leading the other person to introspect alone,” Orendorff writes. “In contrast, when we ask for ‘advice,’ people see themselves as partners. And advice versus feedback significantly increases both the amount and quality of responses.”
He adds to be mindful when it comes to pronouns. “You is selfish. So is them. But, we works together.”
Orendorff concludes that the chances of your colleagues ever wanting to read your writing will likely remain slim. Again, it’s nothing personal, it’s more indicative of the busy lives we all lead. That shouldn’t stop anyone from wanting to improve their writing and continue to get better. Ultimately, if you can make your writing more coherent and to the point for your audience, everybody wins – whether your colleagues know it or not.
Joe Livarchik is an account executive with Communiqué PR. He is likely writing a run-on sentence at this moment.Tags: brevity, editing, email