Posted Feb. 19, 2019
Far too many communications try to do far too much: cover too many subjects, go into too much depth, include too much information. It's usually an earnest and well-intentioned attempt to be comprehensive or thorough, but it ends up leaving the audience overwhelmed, confused, and uncertain. It's better to keep communications as sharply focused as possible. But how do you do that? Here are 6 tips to help you focus your written communications.
1: Stick to the topic.Try to limit each communication to a single topic. Think about the last meeting you attended where you tried to cover multiple topics. Attendees probably jumped back and forth between them, especially at the end when last-minute questions came up. Your notes ended up a jumble. You might have tuned out one of the topics because it didn't concern you and struggled to re-oriented yourself when the next topic came up. Communications that stick to a single topic stay focused and clear.
2: Get to the point.Avoid the temptation to "build up to” your main point unnecessarily. This is especially common in long-form writing. It's understandable that you want to provide background and context for your point, but that information may end up distracting readers, making it harder for them to realize and absorb the key takeaway message. Get to the point immediately, if the topic and reader warrant such an approach.
3: Repeat the point.In general, repeating yourself unnecessarily pads and complicates writing; however, a small dose of targeted, conscientious repetition can reinforce the message. For example, you may have heard the maxim, "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them." If you’re making a lengthy presentation, strategically repeating the main thesis a few times can keep the audience focused on your core message without getting lost in the minutiae. This is related to the so-called "Rule of 7," which is the idea that consumers need to hear about something seven times before they'll buy. The same principle can apply to information: sometimes readers need to see or hear the same point several times before they'll absorb and remember it.
4: Strip away jargon.Focus depends on clarity, and clarity depends on straightforward language. Unless you're 100 percent sure that everyone reading your email, memo, or paper will understand the jargon or technical terms you use, favor simple, everyday words instead. While you're at it, cut the clichés and fancy vocabulary too.
5: Go shorter.Try to cut your first draft down. The more information you include, the greater the chance that your audience will focus on the wrong thing. Incorporate only what is essential; discard the rest. As a thought exercise, consider how you'd communicate the same message through a shorter-form medium. For example, if you're writing an email, how might you distill the message into a 140-character tweet? If you're writing a report or study, how might you communicate the same information in a one-page article? This can often help you identify information that can be cut without losing meaning.
6: Hone your skills.Focus and clarity are matters of skill as much as talent, and your ability to craft highly focused communications will improve as you exercise and develop the skill. Consider supplemental training in communications and, of course, practice, practice, practice!
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite writing workshops and online corporate writing courses for over 30 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.