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The secret to writing shorter stuff

Tags: Impact | Save time | Do more

11th April

There are billions of written documents in the world.

It probably feels like you’ve read most of them.

But how many were exactly what the reader wanted?

How many did the writer enjoy writing?

How many had the desired effect?

Not many?


You see this everywhere:

  • Tedious emails that don’t get a reply
  • Wordy proposals that don’t seal the deal. Or that the customer doesn’t even bother replying to
  • Tedious Board Papers that arrive too late to read in time for the meeting
  • Reports that people prepare for their boss, only to be told to re-do them

Sound familiar?

If so, remember these three words…

       Confirmation not exploration.

In other words, when you write something, wherever possible, it should be a confirmation of what you’ve already agreed verbally, rather than you exploring new ideas on paper.

For example, proposals. Before you put pen to paper, you should have verbally agreed with the customer:

  • The solution they want from you
  • The price they’re willing to pay
  • The structure/headings of your proposal
  • When you’ll have a follow-up call after they’ve read it

Once you’ve agreed these, your proposal becomes a short document confirming everything you’ve already agreed. It’s clearly miles more likely to work than you sitting in a darkened room, guessing what they want you to write, not being sure, so filling it with as much stuff as you can.

So, next time you’re asked to create a written document, say something like this…

“Yes, I’ll write that for you. But the last thing I want to do is bore you with irrelevant information. So, can I ask you a couple of quick questions before I write it?”

(Trust me, they’ll answer your questions. They are not going to say “it’s ok – be irrelevant.”)

And then ask whatever questions you need to, to get their verbal confirmation about content. Things like:

  • What content do you want in there?
  • What do you not want me to include?
  • What headings do you want?
  • When do you want it by?
  • When shall we have a follow-up chat after you’ve read it?

And so, you know that document you’re about to write today…

Action point

… If you haven’t done so already, contact the reader, tell them you don’t want to bore them with irrelevant content, and ask them about content, structure and so on.

It’ll save you both loads of time. And your document will be much more likely to impress them. And to work.

And if you’re writing documents today that relate to influencing, impressing, inspiring, proposing, selling, networking, presenting, overcoming objections, … in fact, if you’re communicating with anyonehere are hundreds more tips for you.