Ask yourself this question: When is the last time you actually read an email or a proposal word-for-word?
Think about it for a second. If you’re like most people, you get bombarded with tons of emails, articles, social media posts, and more every day.
Everyone skims until they have a reason to keep reading. If someone isn’t getting to the point quickly, you may not have time to deal with them.
That’s true for everyone, and it’s why you need to know how to get straight to the point when corresponding with business associates and potential clients.
Here’s how to do it.
1. Don’t bury the lead.
Reporters and journalists are trained from the start of their careers not to bury the lead beneath a mountain of text. It needs to be visible and clear-cut from the start of the piece.
Long introductions and gratuitous backstories are huge time wasters when you’re trying to get straight to the point.
When you’re writing an email or a sales proposal, you don’t have to be as firm as an editor about this rule but should make sure to tell someone why you’re contacting them within the first couple of lines.
Your reader shouldn’t have to go on a scavenger hunt to figure out why you’ve emailed them. It should be obvious from the start regardless of your audience.
2. Mention your purpose often.
Depending on your writing style, this can be a little difficult.
If you’re writing a purpose-driven email, everything within that email should be bent on validating your reason for contact.
Whether you’re using statistics, examples, testimonials, or something else to back up your talking points, you want to make sure that everything reflects back on your lead.
This approach sets you up as a straight shooter and reinforces your reason for reaching out. At the same time, it gives you the flexibility to flesh out your content in case your reader wants to explore a little further.
The real trick here is to do this without sounding like a broken record. You might have to crack open a thesaurus or get creative with your phrasing to ensure that you aren’t saying the same thing over and over again.
3. Skim your work.
One of my favorite steps to take to ensure that I’m getting straight to the point is to skim my documents in the way that I think a casual reader might.
To do this, I typically step away from the document for a few hours. When I come back to it, I read the first few paragraphs and start skimming the document. If my reason for writing isn’t clear from very early on, it’s back to the drawing board.
By teaching yourself to skim your own work, you’re reading like your reader. If you can’t pick out the basic reasoning, or if it’s not abundantly clear at point-blank range, then you’ll need to revise the copy.
4. Use formatted text and bulleted lists to grab attention.
If you think back to your English lessons or keyboarding classes, you might remember the various typographical emphasis tools that you can use to make your text stand out.
These are excellent tools to help you get straight to the point because they help you highlight important text within your document.
The four main formatting tools you should use are:
- Bold fonts
- Underlined fonts
- Headings & subheadings
- Bulleted lists (see what I did there?)
Using these four techniques, you can draw attention to specific parts of your text in an unobtrusive way. I don’t recommend italics because it’s easy to miss. Bold and underlined words are clear, and a bulleted list draws the eye because of the change in format.
Use these tools to your advantage. They’re valuable assets when you’re trying to get someone to pay attention to you.
5. Repeat at the wrap-up.
One of the best things that you can do in order to close out your correspondence is to repeat what you said at the beginning of your email.
This is the “tell them what you told them” approach to business correspondence, and it works. Sum up everything a final time. Touch on the major points in your document, and repeat why you were trying to connect with your reader in the first place.
Typically, a wrap-up like this comes with some kind of call to action. This lets readers know what steps you want them to take next.
Your call to action doesn’t have to be a last hurrah.
It could be as simple as an invitation to connect or a question discussing next steps. If you want the reader to reply, ask a question. If you want them to check something out, invite them to let you know what they think.
Here are a few examples of emails, paragraphs, and similar correspondence to demonstrate how to use these techniques. Below each example, I’ll touch on the techniques that help the writing get straight to the point.
In this example, a few things should jump out immediately. The first is the bold text in the first paragraph. It might feel like a sledgehammer in the middle of the email, but it allows the reader to focus on the reason for contact.
The first paragraph also includes a little bit of personal information, and the second paragraph mentions where this lead came from. I used a name here (Phillip), but it would be easy to substitute that for a place or a venue of some kind. “I saw a job posting on [XYZ website] that mentioned…”
This is a short, targeted email designed to get straight to the point. It poses a question at the end and invites the reader to connect at a later date to discuss the opportunity further.
No muss, no fuss.
Last note: This kind of email is very easy to template, something that can be critical to your success when trying to move quickly as a startup or small business.
About the Business
This is a modified bio from a blog post I wrote a while back talking about “About Me” pages.
The bold text draws the eye directly to the current product offering, as well as an award that may matter to the reader. The bulleted list tells readers exactly what products are on offer.
Mira’s story is worked into the copy, but for readers who are just looking for high-level information about the business, the bold text and bulleted points cover the highlights in a manner that is succinct, and easy to spot.
This job description uses bullet points and subheads to break down the content into bite-sized snippets.
While English grammar is still (mostly) respected in this context, the shorter, clipped phrasing is common on job descriptions and in resumes. This adds to the brevity without losing the meaning or focus of the language.
This kind of document is meant to be skimmed and then re-read in closer detail. The modular nature of the format helps tremendously in this process.
Getting straight to the point can be difficult to do.
Untrained writers have a tendency to meander or pad their words with unnecessary fluff. This often happens because the writer wants to provide context before an ask or explain the specifics of their position.
Think about all the COVID-19 emails and website emails you received. Some were big, fluffy sum-ups of the company’s reason for closing or reducing hours. After you read the first one, you already knew what the rest were going to say. A simple, direct email about a change in hours or services would have been best.
The problem is that it’s easy for the purpose of the content to get lost in all that extra noise. By using these techniques to get straight to the point, you can clarify your outreach and make sure that your readers are on the same page.
Need someone to help you find clarity? Get in touch and we’ll work together to find a clear-cut and on-brand way to say what you want to say.