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issue 42

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Training Bulletin Issue 42

We want instant gratification – and we want it NOW!

You’ve got to love a good cliché – and a perennial favourite is the one about the Brits and how we like to queue in a nice, orderly way. Apparently it reinforces our sense of what civilised chaps we all are, and how much better than Johnny Foreigner with all his disorderly pushing and shoving.

But – you knew there’d be a but – apparently we aren’t that keen on queuing any more. Barclays polled 2,000 shoppers recently and found that 40% of respondents refuse to wait more than about two minutes to pay for something, and 68% will abandon their shopping and go elsewhere rather than wait. 51% of people won’t even enter a shop if they see long queues.

We want things quickly and easily and we’ll give up or look elsewhere if we don’t get it.

So what’s this got to do with business writing? Well, our impatience isn’t just restricted to shopping. If your readers can’t find what they want quickly and easily they’ll give up – and your important message won’t get through.

Death of the long attention span

There are many theories to explain why we all seem to have shorter attention spans these days and want everything instantly with no effort. Regardless of why, there’s little argument that this is so. When was the last time you slowly read and re-read something, making careful notes in the margins to tease out the meaning? And if you were forced to do this because you had no alternative, did the task fill you with benign warmth for the writer or jaw-clenching frustration?

Will this give me what I want?

The first thing a reader needs is confirmation that they will find what they want in an email or report. Start by considering your file name if sending something as an attachment. If you receive two attachments 17_10 final ver.doc and Meeting minutes 17 Oct.doc, is it obvious where to look for your action items in a hurry?

If you’re sending an email, pay attention to the subject and change it if necessary. Would you expect to find notification of a venue change in an email with the subject Re: Fwd: Writing samples for 15 Aug pls call? There’s no way to tell without reading the actual email.

Promotional emails really need to do this well. Most people would just delete an email with the subject, “Great new product from Company X” – who cares what Company X has been doing?

If the subject were something like “Cut your replicating oscillator costs by 20%”, users might be more interested because it offers them a benefit.

I think they’re trying to tell us something…

If you’ve opened a document or email because the name or subject suggested that you might actually want to read it, you don’t then want to scroll through, unable to find key information. Neither does your reader.

Use headings and bullet points to highlight the important things you want your reader to take away. You can write your headings first and fill in the information after, or start by getting the facts down, then writing a heading. But a good heading needs to do two things:

  1. It tells the reader what sort of information they will find beneath it
  2. It signposts the most important point

Most people can produce a heading that does the first but not many go as far as also addressing the second. Take a look at the following headings from a team meeting at an IT company:

The same headings can be much more useful by including the key information from each section:

Do you have a captive audience?

If you are the only shop in the world selling left-handed replicating Feinberg oscillators, then your customer has no option but to stand in line for your tills.

Unfortunately, it’s not the same with business documents. Readers will either guess at what you’re trying to say or will phone you and ask you to explain. Unclear writing can just end up making more work for the writer. If you find that people ask you about things that you thought you had explained in writing – or seem to have misunderstood what you said – then look back and see where they lost the plot.

Most Plain Words business writing courses look at catching and holding your reader’s attention. Start by improving filenames, subject lines and headings. Then make sure the words you choose will be understood by your readers and keep the document as concise as possible without being terse.

To find out more about how we can help you streamline your business documents, contact .

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Follow this link for the dates of our public courses.

The price is £495 + VAT per person for a one-day course and £850 + VAT for a two-day course. Half day courses are £295 + VAT per person.

Consultancies cost £850 + VAT for one day or £500 + VAT for half a day, held at your premises.

We also offer private courses at your premises. Please call us for details.

How to book

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Kind Regards
The Plain Words Training Team

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