Do you read every word of an email, book or other document?
Do you skim documents, reading a sentence here and there?
People tend to be read one way or the other. We call those who read everything skeptics, and we call the other style skimmers. Which are you? I'm a confirmed skimmer, and I tend to think most people need to be a skimmer in order to get through the massive amount of reading we all have to do.
What's the difference between them, and how does this affect business writing? How can you make both types of readers happy when one stops part way through the document? How can you be more compelling?
Writing for Skeptics
Because skeptics tend to read a document thoroughly, they like to see documentation and facts to support statements. Use lots of supporting details and evidence and provide examples, statistics, factual anecdotes to support everything.
Writing for Skimmers
On the other hand, skimmers want to read it and get on with something else. It needs to be concise and fast. They often decide whether they will read something based on the first sentence. If that grabs them, they will skim the document, looking for key points. To make skimmers happy, start with the main point--the one thing you want them to remember. In an e-mail, use the subject line to convey that information. Use bullets, boldface and graphic elements to highlight key facts, dates or figures in the body.
Writing for Both
For both types of readers, organize the body of your document as an inverted pyramid--place the most important information first and drill down to the least important. In this way, both types of readers get what they want. Skimmers get the most important information without having to read the entire document; skeptics get the detail they need. Everybody is happy.
Need help writing email? (On-demand webinar on Write and Manage Email.)
That writer does the most, who gives his reader the most knowledge, and takes from him the least time. ~Charles Caleb Colton