Core. Essence. Kernel. Heart. Crux. When applied to a document, these terms refer to its bottom line message. One of the things pro writers do is make the bottom line clear. That means they state their bottom line explicitly. And more than once in a long or complex document.
The other thing pros do is place their bottom line where readers can’t miss it. That means in the first few sentences of the document. Thanks to the Center for Plain Language, I learned about some research done by attorney, Sean Flammer, which makes it clear that plain language is actually preferred when US judges are consumers of legal documents. If you read yesterday’s post, you know I critiqued their ability/willingness to write plainly themselves. The three sample documents (a potential pleading) Flammer created for his research are interesting. Although their style and organization vary in several ways, all three versions include the bottom line within the first few sentences. You can read Writing to Persuade Judges if you want to see for yourself.
Amateur workplace writers are uncomfortable placing their bottom line first in their document. I’ve found this aversion psychologically difficult for novice writers to overcome. As I’ve said many times, it’s important to remember that amateurs have written only academic (self-centered) documents for teachers who were more interested in their arguments than in their bottom line messages. But I don’t think this is a sufficient explanation for the aversion to bottom line directness. My older students seem to make the adjustment more quickly and easily. So I suspect that amateurs resist placing their bottom lines first because they lack confidence in their bottom line message. Maybe I’ll do some research on this in the future.
Of course, there are exceptions to the success of direct bottom line placement based on rhetorical context. In other words, pros adjust placement when they know a reader will have a strongly negative reaction to their bottom line message. Or when they know they are dealing with a non-Western audience. The video tutorial I’m sharing today explains when and how to place the bottom line within a workplace document. I’d love to hear your reaction.
- Amateurs (and lawyers) beat around the bush (proswrite.com)