Translation: ‘too long; didn’t read’.

This is the verdict, Aaron Orendorff argues, on most work-related writing.

Orendorff, a writer and editor, suggested a while back in the New York Times that your work colleagues really don’t want to read anything you write in a professional setting.

It’s not that they don’t like you or that you write badly; it’s just that they (like you) are inundated with reading material.

He offers eight strategies to get people to read what you send them (because some of it actually might be important):

  • Write less often
    • scarcity is more valuable
    • keep personal conversations separate from professional channels
    • wait before you send or reply, sometimes up to 24 hours – or don’t send at all
  • keep it short
    • brevity is the soul of wit (Shakespeare’s joke being that it is the tedious old bore Polonius who says that in Hamlet)
  • put action words in the subject line of your e-mail
    • not ‘Budget attached’ but ‘APPROVAL REQUIRED FOR ITEMS 9-12: Budget attached’
  • listen rather than talk
    • ask a clear, concise question that invite answers
  • ask, don’t answer
    • ‘use one or two sentences to describe the situation; then ask a single question and let the team chime in’
  • ‘lead with the need’
    • skip opening niceties and cut to the chase
    • move the final sentence of your first draft to the top and then cut most of the rest
  • provide an executive summary
    • call it ‘TL;DR’, even
    • especially useful for memos, agendas and group e-mails
    • say who needs to do what by what date
    • if this covers everything, omit the rest of the draft
  • think of your readers
    • is what you’re writing interesting or relevant for them?
    • include your reader by referring to we not I or even you
    • asking for someone’s opinion invites criticism; try to build on a shared identity

These eight points won’t make people hang on every e-mail you compose, but you may at least get their attention.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

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