Our attention spans have shrunk, and most of the business documents you write should be downsized to match.
Look at the stories in newspapers like USA Today. Most run about 300-500 words – not 3,000. Likewise, television delivers fast-paced, tightly-edited commercials, programs and videos.
It’s true in the workplace, too. Welcome to Planet A.D.D. Everybody is busy, multi-tasking, struggling to keep up. Few people have the patience to plod through long, verbose documents anymore – even your employees. (Maybe especially your employees!) Don’t aggravate the situation.
A few suggestions:
When in doubt, leave it out. Don’t try to cover everything in a single document. Keep the focus narrow, laser-like. Don’t chatter.
Be ruthless in cutting anything not directly relevant to your main points. Franklin Roosevelt, one of the great orators of his day, explained his secret of giving a great speech: “Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated.” (PowerPoint presenters: please take the hint.)
Use clear, simple language. Write the way you talk (without completely slaughtering the rules of grammar). Everything can and should be presented in clear, simple language.
For example, which of the following sentences do you think is more effective?
Intricate, obtuse ramblings, heavily laden with impenetrable jargon, combined with elongated and often perplexing sentence structure, neither persuade nor facilitate effective data transfer.
Big words and long sentences are hard to understand.
The tortured syntax of the first version is more than twice as long — and ten times harder to understand! So jettison the jargon and fancy words whenever you can. Use what newscaster Paul Harvey – a terrific communicator – calls simple, “shirtsleeve English”.
Other writing tips:
- Simple, declarative sentences get your point across clearly and concisely.
- Use the active voice, not passive.
- Go easy on the adjectives and adverbs. Choose the right noun or verb instead. Think Hemingway, not Faulkner.
Remember, your goal is to communicate, to make your point – not win the Nobel Prize for Literature.