February 5th, 2009
A friend of mine was talking to a literary agent about his novel. “Give me the two-sentence pitch,” she said. When he looked anxious at the thought of condensing his masterpiece to two measly sentences, she told him, “I’m here and happy to listen when you figure it out — but I’m just asking you the question everyone else will ask me when I try to sell your book.”
We would all do well to take her point. Audiences aren’t ready-made. Usually, our first job as writers is to persuade people to read our e-mails, reports, and novels — with an engaging subject line, summary, or blurb. Of course, it can be tricky to write a short summary of something you’ve just written pages about, but executives and other readers often make big decisions without reading the whole report. Natalie Canavor and Claire Meirowitz have some summary-writing tips in the CW Bulletin. Their suggestions:
- Give your summary a summary: make sure the title and first sentence are interesting and to the point.
- List the key points that led you to your conclusion.
- Don’t leave out your recommendations! After someone reads your summary and sees that you did your research, they’ll look to you for a concisely worded, educated opinion.
For more tips on writing concisely, check out Write It Well’s Professional Writing Skills.