cover image Writing for Busy Readers: Communicate More Effectively in the Real World

Writing for Busy Readers: Communicate More Effectively in the Real World

Todd Rogers and Jessica Lasky-Fink. Dutton, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-0-593-18748-7

Rogers, a public policy professor at Harvard University, and Lasky-Fink, research director at Harvard’s People Lab, debut with a useful handbook on how to efficiently get one’s point across, whether in an email, work memo, or social media post. The authors propose “six principles of effective writing”: “less is more,” “make reading easy,” “design for easy navigation,” “use enough formatting, but no more,” “tell readers why they should care,” and “make responding easy.” To make reading easy, the authors recommend sticking to “short and common” words, and to let readers know why they should care, the authors suggest specifying the intended audience early in the piece. Each principle draws on research findings illuminating how readers engage with texts. For example, the authors emphasize the importance of concision by describing a study that found employees at a consulting firm “responded more quickly to shorter, more focused emails than to longer ones.” They also encourage writers to “order ideas by priority,” noting that “the first item in a list usually gets the most attention” and relating a study that found a political candidate earns a larger share of the vote when their name appears higher up on a ballot. The thoughtful advice is pragmatic and the prose fittingly concise and straightforward. It’s Strunk & White for the internet age. (Sept.)