A 2007 study conducted in 32 countries shows that people are walking 10 per cent faster than they did a decade ago. If we enter our offices after travelling in the fast lane, how does it impact the rest of our day?
And how does it affect our reading styles?
I believe we are turning into skimmers when it comes to business documents. We rush through documents looking for points of interest and for the bottom line. In fact, we prefer the bottom line to be at the beginning of the document so we don’t have to guess at the outcome or the action requested.
Effective business writing used to be about clarity and conciseness; now emphasis must also be given to layout — both in terms of organization and visual appeal.
Remember, today’s readers want:
- The bottom line first (A reader wants to know in the opening paragraph why they must read the document – particularly in recommendation reports and emails.)
- Short sentences (A sentence should never exceed two lines.)
- Short paragraphs (Paragraphs in print documents should not exceed eight lines; paragraphs in screen documents should not exceed five lines.
- Connecting words (Sentences starting with connecting words, such as in addition, however, first, increase readability.)
- Visual appeal (Lists, white space and subheads tend to make ideas easier to absorb.)
The famous author C.S. Lewis once wrote: “I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate to the left or right, the readers will most certainly go into it.”
For today’s skimmers, you need to keep your messages brief and visual. Never let a business reader interpret your message. Tell them what you are going to tell them and then tell them – in as few words as possible.