Writing with clarity means providing enough context that the reader can make sense of the message.
How many times have you opened an email, and the first words are something such as That sounds great, or It shouldn’t be a big problem. What were That and it referring to? In many cases, you didn’t know. You probably did what we all have to do in such cases: You scrolled down through previous messages to make a connection between the pronouns and the subjects they were referring to.
Occasionally, your short-term memory can recall previous threads in the discussion, but usually that’s when you are in a back-and-forth message exchange in which you and your recipient are reading the messages within minutes of each other, or perhaps within a couple of hours. In most cases, you read the message, scratch your head, and start searching for context and background.
Don’t make the reader work. Too often, people mistakenly assume that a reader will understand a message. Even worse, writers don’t even stop to think whether the message will make sense. They are too eager to hit send. The issue is not whether the person is knowledgeable about the topic; it’s the volume of information the reader is exposed to every day. You might have discussed the subject with the recipient last week, but that was seven days ago. How many email messages, formal documents, newsletters, industry publications, and other communication has the person read in seven days? Writing with clarity means making sure that the reader will read this message once and know what she needs to know.
Sometimes, all you need is one extra sentence or perhaps even just a clause. When you tell the reader We need to review the expansion blueprints, particularly the digital studio that we discussed last month at the budget meeting, including the clause that we discussed last month at the budget meeting might be just enough background to refresh the reader’s memory.
People in business everywhere frequently complain about email messages that force them to search for additional information. The one that grates on people the most is the one that says only “See below.” Remember that we are all readers. We don’t like it when other people put us through an obstacle course as we try to put together the pieces. It’s in our own best interest to make it easy for the reader.