If this article were one big block of text, you wouldn’t read it. If that block were in an email, you’d probably delete it.
The big picture: University studies have dug deep into our relationship with email and — more specifically — what happens when busy readers see long, blocky updates in their inbox. It’s almost always two things:
- They shut it — convinced they’ll come back when they have more time. They rarely do.
- Anxiety builds — now they have a growing backlog, but they don’t want to deal with it.
Yes, but: If we trim that same text into shorter, more digestible paragraphs, and start each idea with an eye-catching anchor, suddenly the update feels a lot more inviting to busy readers.
- We call those anchors “Axioms” — like the “why it matters” and “yes, but” phrases you see above — and use about a dozen across our internal and external comms.
Why it works: Axioms build readers’ muscle memory. They act as cue cards, signaling what’s to come in an update and connecting the dots between big ideas. Used well, they help:
- Boost clarity — readers can more immediately see the key points in your update.
- Save time — folks can quickly zoom in on the details they need, and often finish reading in half the time.
How to do it: Start with a small set of Axioms that work for your internal comms, and use them consistently when you write and send team updates. A few of our go-tos:
- What's new: A sentence that shares the most important detail your reeds need to know
- Why it matters: The context readers need to understand how your update impacts them
- The big picture: To point out a broad or growing trend
- By the numbers: Key stats that illuminate a story
- How it works: To outline the steps or instructions for a process
- Between the lines: To offer nuance insight and analysis
- Yes, but: To qualify a point or introduce a counterpoint
- What to watch: Developing trends or potential outcomes in an ongoing situation
- What's next: The next step in an update, strategy, or policy
- The bottom line: To punctuate your communication with clarity
- Go deeper: Link to a valuable resource or further reading
Not every paragraph needs an Axiom, though — sometimes the best way to amplify an important point is to bold the first few words of the paragraph. But if you find yourself going a few blocks without any bolding, ask yourself if an Axiom could improve focus or read time.