I love to read a good mystery, but the classic writing technique that works in a detective novel fails miserably when used in business writing.
While mystery fans like to wait until the end of a novel to find out whodunit, readers at work prefer to know the ending first. Why make your readers wait until the last paragraph to discover the main point?
When readers find the main point at the tail end of the email, report, recommendation or proposal, it forces them to re-read the writing, keeping the main point in mind.
These days, I don’t know many readers who have the patience–or the time–for that.
It’s easy to understand the bottom-line-at-the-bottom approach because that’s the way our brains work. It’s the logical progression of ideas from A to B to C to the grand finale of the main point. Ta Da!
But just because that logical progression is the way we think, it doesn’t mean that’s the way we have to write.
That’s why I think a bottom-line-at-the-top or BLATT approach is a better way to organize most business writing.
If you want to become a more efficient writer at work, you can organize your ideas before you start writing, instead of using the stream-of-consciousness technique. Stream of consciousness means you’re typing, while you’re thinking and then you’re sending with the Ta Da! at the end, instead of the beginning.
To help with organizing your ideas, write a clear purpose statement and follow it with the main point you want to make. BLATT works especially well if you’re writing to readers who do most of their work on a Blackberry or other mobile device. Using the purpose statement + BLATT allows readers to quickly get the message. They can decide whether they need to read more to get the details or not.
Use the idea of Bottom Line At The Top whenever answering a question–even before giving the details that explain the answer. Use BLATT when making a request–even before giving the reasons why you’re asking.
Picture the BLATT as an upside down triangle or what journalists call “the inverted pyramid.”
The long line at top represents your general ideas and includes the purpose for writing and the BLATT. The narrower part of the triangle represents all the detail that supports the main idea.
One way to quickly find the BLATT is to ask yourself these two questions:
- What’s the most important point I want to make?
- How can I say that in just one sentence?
Another way to find the BLATT is to simply write what you want to say, using a logical progression of ideas, and whatever you write at the bottom of the document, simply move it to the top.
It’s a good way to help take the mystery out of your writing.