Posted by: Jane Dominguez, CPA | January 14, 2010

Don’t Let Your Reader Stumble

Don’t Let Your Reader Stumble

Stumbling is the leading cause of lost readers. Once we lose a reader, we may not get a second chance to reach them.

Business readers struggle to sift through their barrage of daily emails and other material filling their electronic and snail-mail inboxes. They quickly skim their way through the never-ending torrent and stumble easily. What happens when a reader falters over something in our email message or other business writing? Some recover, but many do not and our information or request is lost. Readers will not put in a lot of time and effort to digest our material. Once they stagger, they will likely move on to the next thing and miss the main point, the request, or call to action.

5 Tips to Prevent Your Reader From Stumbling:

  1. Use Familiar Words: Most readers will not look up the meaning of unknown words and they disrupt the reading of your message. Use everyday words for the greatest impact, and prevent your message from being misinterpreted. Readers are already skimming our material, and when they hesitate over an unfamiliar word they will likely miss our main point. For example, replace: nonfunctional, cadre, tantamount, utilize, with: broken, group, this means, use.
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  3. Lack of Format: Remember your reader sees the style and format of your material before they ever read a word. Well-formatted material encourages the recipient to read it, while a lack of format may only make them click the delete button or shove your material on the bottom of their slush file. An email message needs a useful subject line, proper greeting (be sure to spell names correctly) and your main point in the subject line then expanded and repeated in the first two sentences.  Emails that are short and concise are the ones that get read.  If you are writing a report, proposal, or other material, make sure it is easy to read.  Use headings, subheadings, bullet points and outlines to make longer material easy to scan and digest. Readers assume that well-presented (good format) material is accurate, and that is a good first step to establishing a good relationship with your reader.
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  5. Business Speak: Business material pumped up with bureaucratic words, like therein, heretofore, below-listed, pursuant, and hereby to, only serve to direct the reader’s attention away from your message. Business-speak not only causes readers to readers to stumble, but completely give up reading your material. Business speak is often used to spin a negative situation, and readers are suspicious whenever they encounter it. Clear writing is more impressive than a string of $20 words. When unclear writing reaches clients and customers they lose confidence in us.
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  7. Hiding the Main Point:  75% of your readers will miss your point if the bottom line is not at the top of the message or article. If your main point is hidden in a long paragraph or tacked on to the end of your message, it will be lost. If readers falter as they skim your message for why you sent it, they won’t keep trying. Readers will not hunt for the reason you sent the message, or wrote that report. When they don’t see the purpose immediately, they assume it is not important and move on. 
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  9. Define Acronyms and Abbreviations: Spell out all acronyms and abbreviations, even if you are sure the reader knows their meaning. I can’t tell you how many times I have received a message with an acronym or abbreviation that I probably should know, but I’d been working on something else, and just can’t come up with the meaning of it.  Now, I am frustrated because I can’t remember the meaning of an abbreviation, and don’t pay attention to the rest of the message. Jargon and buzzwords in your business emails may prevent readers from understanding your message, and you won’t get the right response. 

Clients and associates see you as a professional, an expert in your field when you deliver your intent with power, clarity and precision and welcome opportunities to work with you.

What makes you stumble when reading an email?

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