You want people to read what you send them… or at least skim it and pull out the most important parts. We all do, or we wouldn’t send stuff in the first place. We’ve all felt the frustration when you carefully craft your message and someone asks a question that is answered in the information you originally sent. Of course you want to help, but if they had just read the original message…
You need to remember:
It isn’t about you.
It’s about THEM, and they’re busy. They have 100 things competing for their attention; they don’t have the time (or interest) to dig through and find the most important pieces of what you’ve sent them.
So, how do you lay it out so it is more likely they will actually read what you’re sending? Let’s walk through it using a recent example.
Hockey letter: Before
This is a simple informational letter the Mankato Area Hockey Association sends out to hockey teams who have signed up to play in a their hockey tournaments. Here is the original, formatted in Microsoft Word (click to get a closer look):
Things I noticed right away:
- Bold text: When you bold a lot of text, that text no longer stands out from the rest of the content. If it’s all important, none of it’s important.
- Unorganized text layout: When your content isn’t organized and laid out well on the page, it’s hard to follow. Your reader will struggle to follow along and move from item to item. Group related items together, and use bulleted or numbered lists with indents to help the user easily navigate the information.
- Lack of headings and hierarchy: Break content into smaller groups and add headings to help the reader quickly identify the sections. Then they can choose what is important for them to read and respond to right now and what they can refer back to later. (Pro Tip: When you format the document carefully, they will prioritize the content that YOU want them to.)
- Partial sentences and symbols: Your organization will look more professional when you write in complete sentences and use words rather than symbols. For example, spell out the word “number” rather than use the symbol “#”.
Hockey letter: After
Here is the version I submitted back to the committee, still formatted in Microsoft Word. This is a basic framework for them to build from as they finish adding information and finalize the content.
Changes I made:
- Reduced bold text: I limited the use of bold text to just what I want the reader’s eye to be drawn to when they are scanning. This allows them to pluck out what is most important.
- Created lists: I paired the bolded text with the list format to really make the items clear and call out what the reader needs to do. Readers mentally check off each item as they move through it.
- Added headings: I added headings and subheadings to help break the content down into smaller pieces. I wanted to help the reader know what needs to be done before the tournament, and what they will need to know when they travel to the tournament. Subheadings also help pull the reader through the material.
- Rewrote text: I rewrote the text to add a friendly but professional tone to the letter. I also wanted the content under the bullet points to be consistent in format and the information easy to understand.
- Other changes: As I worked, I thought about what elements produced even small barriers for the reader. Some small changes that may make a difference:
- I included the email address that teams are to send information to right with the information they need to send. Sure, they can just reply to the email, but this eliminates any question of where it needs to be sent.
- I typed the rink address in one line so readers can easily copy/paste it into their map app on their phone.
- Since tournament apparel is available by pre-order only, I moved that information to the “Prior to the Tournament” section. Also, when the original letter referred to the apparel orders, it did not reference the attachment with additional information. I added a quick couple of words to help the reader make that connection.
Ultimately, the goal of this letter is to make sure the tournament registration, check-in, and weekend goes smoothly. Tournament organizers want more teams to submit their pre-tournament materials on time, be prepared at tournament check in, and know important information. As the tournaments start rolling, we’ll find out if these changes will help the committee better achieve those goals.
Any time you send out information, there will still be people with questions, there will still be people who don’t read the information. That’s a given. But, I’m confident that making changes like this will make it easier for your audience to read what you send, thus reducing the time you spend answering questions.
MANY thanks to the Mankato Area Hockey Association Tournament Committee for trusting me with their communications!
How will you put these ideas to work for you? How can I help? What questions do you have? Please comment below or send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.
cover photo credit: Pixabay.com