There are several techniques used capture the attention of your readers, who will likely give your message 10 seconds before they leave your website or delete your email.
“Burying the lede” refers to the failure to mention the most important or actionable items at the beginning of your message. “Starting with the why” means that you state the reason up front, so everyone understands the purpose of your message.
I recently received an email from my son’s elementary school that perfectly illustrates the importance of using these writing principles. The email is extracted below:
Subject: Front of school redesign
Dear Elementary A parents:
This summer, there are a couple of exciting changes that will be taking place. The first is that all of the halls throughout the school will be repainted. The second change is that the front entrance to the school will be redesigned. Below are the main highlights of this front entryway renovation project:
• During the summer break, the front entryways at 15 elementary campuses will be renovated, including Elementary A. The other schools affected [list of other schools.] The remaining elementary campuses will be renovated next summer and will include [lists of other schools].
• Once construction is complete, our school will have a secured receptionist area.
• The secured receptionist area will create a single point of entry to our school. These renovations will allow for more diligent monitoring and tracking of all campus visitors. Visitors will not be able to enter our campus without getting access from front office personnel in the secured receptionist area.
• These renovations require that all visitors, with proof of identification, be checked into the visitor management system, be screened against the national registry of sex offenders, and once processed, given a “visitor badge” before they can enter the school beyond the secured receptionist area.
• These changes to our campus entry process will boost student safety by improving the surveillance of all campus visitors. The campus receptionist will now be seated at the front vestibule, with a line of sight to the front perimeter, as people approach the campus.
• These renovations will provide another layer of protection for our students, staff and visitors.
• These renovations are a result of recommendations made during the safety and security assessment that was conducted a couple of years ago.
• Student and staff safety is our top priority. We continue to balance a variety of safety strategies with technology and human factors as part of a comprehensive approach to its multi-hazardous emergency response plan and security programs.
These changes, particularly the front of school redesign, are going to be huge improvements and we are all very excited about them! Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have about this.
This email contains important information for parents, but parents must dig through irrelevant information in order to understand exactly what’s changing and the reason for the change.
For example, the first bullet point includes a list of all elementary school campuses undergoing renovation. I don’t care about the other campuses. I care about my son’s campus, what will be happening and why.
Why lead with a long list of other schools, since this email was sent to parents at a particular school? If that information must be included, place it at the end of the email.
Also, the email does a good job explaining the changes, but does not make it clear in the beginning why they are making these changes. “Starting with the why” might have resulted in something such as this:
To boost student safety and improve the surveillance of all campus visitors, we will be making several renovations to the school this summer.
The renovations include creating a single point of entry to the school, through a secured receptionist area at the front entrance. The details about the renovations are below.
What do you think, Ragan readers? How else would you edit this message to make it more reader friendly?
Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor. She is also the author of the writing/editing/random-thoughts blog, Impertinent Remarks.