Author headshots and book cover

Writing for Busy Readers

More words add nuance but clutters central message. Which is your preference: the details or the point?

It isn’t always one or the other, but if you’re writing for busy readers and broader audiences, you ought focus on the point. That’s among the themes from a new book by Jessica Lasky-Fink and Todd Rogers called “Writing for Busy Readers: Communicate More Effectively in the Real World.” Add it to a helpful collection of writing about writing that I enjoy.

They have a nice simplified chart here on a site of resources. Below I share my notes for future reference.

My Notes:

  • It’s not multitasking it is task switching
  • Stroop effect of concentrating
  • Each reader decides (a) if they will engage (expected utility maximization); (b) when to engage; (c) how much attention and (d) if to respond
  • We choose things we want to do over things we should do (including what reading to do)
  • Skimming and scanning are different but complementary tools we use
  • Effective writers edit and revise and clarify their emails and other work messages if they matter enough
  • If your intended reader misses an important point it’s the writers fault
  • Blaise Pascal (not Twain) wrote: “I would have written a shorter letter if I’d had more time”
  • Less time to write means more time to read and vice versa
  • Nancy Gibbs of Time: every word has to earn its place in the sentence, every sentence in paragraph and every idea in the piece
  • More words add nuance but clutters central message
  • NBER newsletter experiment: more links to papers reduced engagement with all links overall
  • Novels in 1800 averaged 27 words per sentence and those in 2000 averaged just 10
  • We’re not getting dumber! (Flynn effect on IQ)
  • Hemingways Old Man and The Sea is written at a 4th grade level
  • US Army: BLUF (bottom line up front)
  • Roman-Saxon writing had no spaces; 7th century CE Irish scribes “aerating “ text with spaces, line breaks followed
  • Write from readers perspective not the writers

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