May 19th, 2009
The main point of any piece of business communication should always be at the beginning. Here is a before/after example:
BEFORE: While European demand has been affected by the worldwide slowdown, Peter Norton has brought in a new director of marketing and sales who has done a great job.
See the attached spreadsheet for sales information by country. North America did better than expected, with 1,768 units sold. We’re planning to make a few product improvements that should further increase sales next year, and the new software program will also shorten the sales cycle. Overall, the good news is that first-quarter sales were up by five percent. This can be attributed to the strong performance by the European unit.
AFTER: First-quarter sales were up nearly five percent above our goal. The increase is the result of the new marketing campaign by our European unit.
While European demand has been affected by the worldwide slowdown, Peter Norton has brought in a new director of marketing and sales who has done a great job.
Have you ever noticed that the first paragraph of a newspaper article contains the most important information? The rest of the article provides details that support, explain, expand on, or illustrate that information.
Newspaper editors know that people often scan only the headline and first part of an article. They also know that the final paragraph or two of a piece might need to be chopped off because of space limitations. That’s why they answer their readers’ most important questions right at the beginning.
People read business communication the same way they read the newspaper; they scan the documents looking for answers to their questions. If the answers aren’t easy to find, busy people will move on to the next thing.
Putting the most important information first not only answers the readers’ most important question right away, it gives readers a context for the details that are to come.