One very influential book in my collection of such books is Annie Proulx’s THE SHIPPING NEWS. It looks a little out of place next to Covey’s THE 8TH HABIT, Welch’s WINNING, etc. But there’s a great reason it’s there.
The book is about a man moving to Newfoundland and landing a job at a small newspaper. Quoyle’s not particularly bright, but this isn’t much of a hinderance. Newfoundland is an island off the upper east coast of Canada (and somewhere I’d love to live), and it’s sparse, but gorgeous.
Shipping News as a Verb
What separates Proulx’s writing in this book from most books you’ll read is how sparse her sentences are. They’re short. Each one is tiny. They don’t even always fit with grammatical correctness. Something like this.
Are you getting it?
Now, what I’m saying is this: people get TONS of things to read in a day. My day-job email is clocking about 200 emails a day. My second life email is around 100. When I get a missive, I have to scan. I don’t have time to read every volume or tome that comes my way.
Not to mention blog posts. I scan over 100 blogs a day, and that requires the same treatment.
- Mix short sentences in with long.
- Keep paragraphs short.
- Break up text with subtitles (like this post).
- Give visual queues, even if it breaks grammatical form. (Look up at my “Are you getting it?” line).
- Use small words where you can. (Don’t say “obfuscate” when “confuse” or “distort” will do.)
- Put really important stuff up top.
- Close with action.
Close With Action
In emails, blog posts, and most correspondence, the writer assumes something that’s not entirely true or accurate. The writer assumes that the reader will diligently read all the way to the bottom of the post or email, and that everything will be absorbed as if there will be a test on it tomorrow. Not so.
One way to get repeatable “full reads” of your email/post is to ensure a call-to-action at the bottom. You can be explicit: “Action Items: Dave- write a review for the site” , or you can be a little more soft-shoe. “I really want your advice on this. Drop me a line when you have a moment.”
Get your readers into the habit of fininshing your emails/posts, and it pays off. But that’s a promise you have to act upon. You have to promise to make all your emails and posts WORTH reading, and with a payoff based on the content you provide. Only then will there be the proper relationship between you and your intended audience.
Does this work for you? I’d like to know.
–Chris Brogan’s most recent call to action is to co-found PodCamp, a FREE unConference about audio and video podcasting being held in Boston on Sept 9-10 at Bunker Hill Community College (venue sponsored by Museum of Science, Boston. Come meet the producer of the Life Hack podcast at PodCamp.