Eight seconds. That’s about how long you have until your reader decides whether to keep reading or flip forward to the next message. If you’re still reading this Writamin, I’m in luck!
Given the deluge of messages your readers are bombarded with and their tenuous attention span, the only way you can be sure to deliver your point is to place it at the beginning of your email or message.
BLUF: Bottom Line Up Front
Your main point or request should appear within the first 40 words of your message – sooner if you can. That gives you space to wish the person a nice day or a pleasant pandemic or whatever nicety you have chosen. Then get straight to the point.
Leave the details for a later paragraph. Trust me: No one wants to get the roundabout history of the point before they get the point itself. They may need to see the history, but put it under a subhead called “Background” or “History” that follows the main point.
Exceptions to the Rule
The BLUF structure suits readers in the American West and Northeast. Busy executives worldwide will probably appreciate the time-saving benefits of seeing the main point upfront. They don’t have the patience to wade through backstory.
However, Southerners and Midwesterners, as well as people from many countries outside North America and Northern Europe, may recoil at the “down to business” approach. You need to warm them up before conveying your point.
Softening Your Message… Up to a Point
If you are writing to someone who may be offended by the “get to the point” attitude, then soften your message by making more than one polite statement and perhaps by inquiring after their health. So instead of,
“Hope you’re having a great day. I’m writing to see if you’ve had a chance to look at my proposal,” you might write,
“Thank you for your kind response to my email of last week. I know you are very busy and appreciate the time you took to write to me. I hope that you and your family are well during this unprecedented time, and wish you continued health. I’m writing to see if perhaps you have had a chance to review the proposal that I sent with my email.”
The second example contains more polite words than the first but still goes straight from greeting to the main point without lapsing into history or backstory.
Add the language that will set your reader at ease. But if you’re in business, make your point promptly after soothing your reader’s spirits.
Repeat Your Point at the End
Yes, I know that your whole email was only a few lines long. And I know that you followed my sage advice and made your point at the beginning. But guess what? Your reader may have forgotten the point by the time he gets to the end of your email. People are that distracted!
So repeat your main point or request in your closing. For example, if your main point was that you need the person’s comments by Friday, you could write, “Thanks so much. I look forward to receiving your comments by Friday.”
So let me say this: State your main point or request within the first 40 words of your email. Then repeat it at the end.
Did you get the point?
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