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Edit before you write: How to make any essential communication shorter, clearer, and more engaging
Nearly 50% of leaders say the toughest step in sharing essential communications and keeping their organization aligned is learning to write in a concise, engaging way that people will actually read.
- Why it matters: More than 70% of employees say they’d prefer leaders to send vital internal updates by email, so learning to optimize the way you use that channel can mean the difference between an informed and aligned workforce and one that frays.
The hack is to have a conversation. With a peer or colleague, talk about the issue, update, goal, or mandate you need to make employees aware of. What’s happening? Why is it important? How’s it going to affect or improve their work?
- Pay attention to the details you share and the words you use when you do.
- They’ll be more direct and empathetic than if you’d just started writing — and give you a clearer outline to use once you begin.
But if you hit a busy sprint or just don’t have a colleague nearby, there are ways to “edit before you write” even when you’re on your own:
Establish your goal: Writing without knowing what you’re trying to accomplish will leave you with content that’s long-winded, vague, and quick to veer off-course — and that doesn't speak to what your readers want to hear. Focus your message by finding its purpose, then defining the most crucial details around it. Before writing:
- Define your topic. Ask yourself if it is timely and essential to your audience.
- Determine your outcome. Do you need to educate, inform, or spark action?
- Ask the hard question. If I could guarantee your readers remembered one detail, sentence, or request forever, which one would it be? Focus on it, and say it first.
Write for your audience: Different audiences need — and want — different details, so defining who your ideal reader is ahead of time helps you focus your message. Think about how you’d talk to them if you were sharing this update in person, over coffee. Before writing:
- List out your priority readers. Busy executives may need brief updates where mid-level teammates need more detail. HR teams may need different directives than IT. Focus on the who before you write the what.
- Consider how much time they have. Before their day starts, you might get 2-5 minutes of focused attention. During the day, it’s more like 12 seconds. Be realistic about how much they’ll have time to get through.
- Cut anything common sense. Familiar detail, jargon and complex language are non-starters. Plan your point, and don’t bog them down.
Be intentional: Once you know your goal and determine what you need to include, you can start to put thoughts down and finesse their format. As you start writing:
- Make a bulleted list of key topics to cover.
- Define the message’s tone and intention.
- Format for clarity and brevity — short paragraphs, bullets, and bolding.
The bottom line: Starting with a focused plan sets up communications for success. The words you think and speak will almost always be more specific and engaging than what you’d type.Go deeper: How to identify your organization's essential communicators — and teach them to be more effective.
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