Author Josh Bernoff points out that all of the advice in his book Writing Without Bullshit
is based on a principle he calls the “Iron Imperative”: Treat the reader’s time as more valuable than your own.
When you cut corners in your writing and don’t think about the reader’s experience, you’re being selfish. As a result, the reader will get frustrated, likely move on to something else, and your message will fail.
But if you help the reader be more efficient, they will think highly of you and come back to you in the future.
Here are four of Bernoff’s tips to help you follow the Iron Imperative and write more effectively:
1. Put the most important point at the top: Did you finally figure out what you were trying to say in your email, article, or report? Put that statement at the beginning.
2. Remove duplication: Reread what you wrote and and ask yourself: Have I said the same thing twice? If so, figure out where it belongs and delete the repeated material.
3. Don’t ramble: Instead of easing the reader into your perspective and supporting points, address them right away. A few examples:
- Less effective: I had a few thoughts about new features on the way to work this morning.
- More effective: We need to build in GPS, and here’s why.
4. In an email, match the subject line to the content: Ask yourself: If all they read is the subject line, will I still have communicated something useful? A few examples:
- Less effective: Some more thoughts about the release
- More effective: Why we can’t release the product yet