Improve your reader’s efficiency — and win their gratitude — with bottom line placement

Photo Credit: Irman Fauzi via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Irman Fauzi via Compfight cc

I’m reorganizing some materials published earlier on Pros Write. And I’m starting with bottom line placement because no guidance for writing successfully at work is more important. If you want to win readers’ gratitude. . . If you want them to see you as competent and respectful. . . Then state your bottom line message clearly and immediately. While workplace readers say they want short messages, research has shown us that what they really want are well organized messages; readers have little patience with even brief ones in which they cannot quickly determine the bottom line. And they can accept long ones when the bottom line is easy to identify.

Bottom line placement is explained in Chapter 6 of Revising Professional Writing in Science and Technology, Business, and the Social Sciences (3rd edition). If you’re using that book in a formal setting, you’ll find dozens of exercises in that chapter, requiring you to hone your ability to identify, state, and place a bottom line message. But here are some additional resources to help anyone master this critical skill:

  • a sample document, including both an original and revised version
  • a brief video tutorial
  • a list of research articles supporting my guidance

Enter feedback in the comments below. The whole point is to provide you with helpful resources.

Sample Document

Read this email job update with ineffective bottom line placement. The document was created by me based on a student’s response to an assignment from a 1999 book titled, Scenarios for Technical Communication, by Stone & Kynell.

  • Writer: a project manager for a construction company
  • Readers: the company’s owner
  • Bottom line message: one project is over budget and behind schedule

Here’s a revised version of that email message, with more effective bottom line placement.

Video Tutorial

The email job update, along with other examples, is included in this <15-minute video about bottom line placement in workplace documents. (The video also helps you identify those exceptional circumstances when your bottom line should not be stated up front.)

Related Readings

There are many posts here at Pros Write that deal with bottom line placement in workplace documents. Just enter “bottom line” in the search field near the top of this page. If you want to see the research supporting my guidance, you might check out the following articles.

Fielden, J.S. & Dulek, R.E. (1984). How to use bottom-line writing in corporate communications. Business Horizons, July-August, pp. 25-30.

Pagel, S., & Westerfelhaus, R. (2005). Charting managerial reading preferences in relation to popular management theory books: A semiotic analysis. Journal of Business Communication, 42(4), pp. 420–448.

Suchan, J., & Colucci, R. (1989). An analysis of communication efficiency between high-impact and bureaucratic written communication. Management Communication Quarterly, 2(4), pp. 454–484.

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