Another lesson on the bottom line

March 5 Weather

A quick story…I was working from home on slides for a presentation this afternoon. As I got ready to head to campus, my phone alerted me to a text message from a co-worker:

This state needs to invest in trucks. And salt. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow!

It took a minute, but I finally figured out the campus was closing because of winter weather. (AGAIN….sigh)

I thought it was odd that I hadn’t seen the customary email announcement.  Then I remembered I had just deleted an email about a “winter weather advisory.” I recovered it from my Trash folder and edited the bottom line placement as recommended by research–and (un)common sense.

Happy Thursday from Tuscaloosa, where we have icy roads today after 80 degree temperatures yesterday!



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.

Cut your email into three chunks for better digestion

Photo Credit: 27147 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: 27147 via Compfight cc

Travis, a former student who now works as an IT consultant, asked for a summary of what we taught him about developing and organizing content in emails ’cause he wants to share it with his project leaders. (Seems they had asked him how he knew what the majority of new grads don’t.)  Although I’ve written here about email requests and different aspects of organizing content, I couldn’t find a single post to meet his needs.  So I whipped up this one.

Let me start by showing you an announcement I recently received at work. It was NOT easy to digest.

This message was a blob I couldn’t begin to swallow. I mean I could read the words. It had well-formed sentences. It had three short paragraphs. But I had no clue what it meant. Because it was sent by a top administrator, I felt some obligation to figure it out. I actually read the entire message. And I talked to fellow employees. No one had a clue. Most had simply trashed the message without reading more than the first few words.

Note the problem isn’t one of brevity. The announcement was brief.

Here’s a revised version of the announcement I’ll use to describe the three chunks needed to help your readers digest an email easily.

Chunk #1: State your bottom line message clearly as an obligatory appetizer.

The bottom line message in the revised version of the announcement is stated early. And twice.

  1. Subject line: Directions for Office of Internal Audit Requests for All University Employees
  2. First sentence: I want to clarify the role of the University’s Office of Internal Audit on our campus and direct all University employees to cooperate with their staff fully.

The first chunk of your email must establish your purpose in communicating with your readers. Stating it clearly requires that you can actually verbalize it before you hit the send button. The critical problem with the original announcement was that it did not explicitly state the bottom line message. There was a required chunk of information missing entirely!

Stating the bottom line in the first chunk of your email requires you to take responsibility for making the message easier for your readers to digest. Even if the writer had included a bottom line message at the end of the original announcement, it would have created indigestion. Believe it or not, there are few situations when a delay in stating your bottom line is warranted.  (See the video tutorial on placement of the bottom line for more help.)

Chunk #2: Provide details or other information supporting your bottom line as the main course.

The details in the revised announcement are nearly identical in content to the original. The details about cooperation for all employees appear in one paragraph. The details about cooperation for all managers appear in a separate paragraph. The content here is brief. But you can provide a load of detail in the second chunk of your email if you make it easy for readers to skim and scan. (See the video tutorial on format for help.) The more complex the second chunk is, the more important it is to provide a wrap-up, further analysis, justification, or something else to tie the details together.

In the revised announcement, I also altered the writer’s style from the original to make it more personal. I couldn’t stop myself.

  • Original bureaucratic tone: University personnel are expected to collaborate with the Office of Internal Audit during an audit review.
  • Revised personal tone: As a University employee, you are expected to collaborate with the Office of Internal Audit during an audit review.

That personal tone is more likely to succeed if you want readers to interpret what you have to say as directions. (See the video tutorial on tone for more on this topic.)

Chunk #3: Include a call to action for dessert.

Readers of the original announcement received nothing after their main course. Readers of the revised email received just a little something as the third chunk of the writer’s message.  Call it lagniappe. They were thanked. And they were told where to go if they had questions.

This chunk isn’t strictly necessary in a downward message like the announcement email (where the writer has more power relative to the readers). But it makes sense to create goodwill that may help you get readers to pay attention to what you say in the future. After all, the language you use with subordinates determines whether they will follow you.

The original announcement was not easily digested because it used three paragraphs, but not the three-chunk format. Thanks to Travis for requesting this summary guidance for writing emails. We’re delighted he’s not the cause of indigestion in his workplace . . . Oh, how we LOVE confirmation that we’re teaching the right stuff!

Research Support

If you’re interested in the research that backs up our guidance, you could start with the following.

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

Evans, S. (2012). Designing email tasks for the Business English classroom: Implications from a study of Hong Kong’s key industries. English for Specific Purposes, 31, pp. 202-212.

A good example of bad customer service writing

I recently discovered Leslie O’Flahavan’s Writing Matters blog and thought I’d share her analysis of some bad writing. Follow the link to see how she re-wrote the email. I look forward to reading more of Leslie’s work.

Text of Customer Service Email Leslie Explains Why This is Bad Customer Service Writing Click on the Links for Tutorials in Each Area
Thank you for taking the time to contact Clinique.
 I am sorry to learn of your disappointing experience with our Quickliner For Eyes in Smoky Brown. Please be assured that . . . It uses an officious, blowhard-y tone. This e-mail should be shorter, simpler, and more personal. Cut the words “Please be assured that…” Nobody but a lawyer in a PBS miniseries talks that way. Managing Style: Tone
. . . all of our product formulas are extensively researched and evaluated prior to approval for manufacture. Part of this testing is devoted to determining the packaging that will best protect the specific formulation during shipment and while in use. The Quickliner For Eyes is an air-sensitive product, and will dry out quickly if exposed to the air for long periods of time. It is therefore important for the product to be tightly closed after each usage so that its air-tight seal is fully engaged. It gives a huffy answer to questions the customer didn’t ask. I didn’t ask, “Do you research your products extensively?” And I also didn’t ask, “Is it OK to leave the eyeliner cap off?” If Clinique wants to tell me to put the cap on firmly each time I use the eyeliner, that’s OK. Just don’t load up the email with information I don’t care about or need. Developing Content: Informative Prose
Nevertheless, we regret to hear of your experience. It blames the customer. When I read the sentence, “Nevertheless, we regret to hear of your experience,” I got mad. What is Clinique saying? “Even though you don’t know how to care for your eyeliner, and you probably left it out in the sun, in the desert, with the cap off, we will grudgingly send you a new one.” Look, the eyeliner isn’t a big-ticket item. It costs $16. But I have been buying about four of these per year since 1999. (I will NOT do the math. I don’t want to know how much I’ve spent on eyeliner.) Do not blame the customer when a product is of poor quality. Just be gracious. Just give; don’t blame. Managing Style: Tone
Since your satisfaction is important to us, I am happy to send you a complimentary replacement Quickliner For Eyes in Smoky Brown. Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery. It buries the information the customer cares about most. I am glad Clinique is going to replace my eyeliner. That’s decent and generous. That information should be at or near the top of the email. Customers want the bottom line up front. Organizing Content: Bottom Line Placement
Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact Clinique. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concerns. You are valued as our consumer, and I hope you will continue to use and enjoy our products with confidence and satisfaction. It over-thanks the customer for writing. In this e-mail, I got thanked twice. Once is plenty. Remember, most customers aren’t happy they had to write at all. Managing Style: Tone
  It’s one huge, blocky paragraph. This email needs more white space, so I can see when the topic changes. It’s too much text at once. I am the opposite of motivated to read it. Organizing Content: Format

When should you delay stating your bottom line message?

Photo Credit: flatKat via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: flatKat via Compfight cc

Rarely. That’s how often you should delay when writing to readers from Western cultures. Our attention span is short. We value efficiency. We want to know your bottom line first. Then we’ll decide whether to keep reading. (I’m assuming your goal is to communicate a point clearly to your audience.) But telling you it’s rarely a good idea to delay is not terribly helpful. Neither is saying only that you should delay when your audience is highly sensitive to your message. So I’ll try to provide better guidance in this post.

Sensitivity is the key to placement of the bottom line. But we need to think about sensitivity in some detail. It helps to tease apart several components of sensitivity. (If you’re not sure how to identify the bottom line in a written message, you may want to view The Video Tutorial on Bottom Line Placement before reading on. Or check out books on business writing from Ron Dulek and Jack Fielden.)

Positive vs. Negative Messages

The first component of sensitivity is obvious. Is the bottom line negative? Consider the meeting announcement below.

University Colleagues:

The Business Communication Roundtable will meet at noon on the first Friday of every month, beginning September 6. We’re especially interested in reaching out across the University and into our community.

Bring a business communication challenge and your lunch to Bidgood Room 15. Is your challenge writing a business plan? Creating web content? Planning an elevator pitch? Communicating performance feedback? Getting people to respond to your email? Or something else? Any topic related to communication in the workplace is appropriate. Everyone with a challenge is welcome whether you are a business person, faculty member, staff member, or student.The group will share resources — and laughs.

This document conveys the bottom line: “The Business Communication Roundtable will meet at noon . . .” That bottom line communicates not negative but neutral news to its readers. (Sidebar: We are going to attempt generalizable guidance; there are always idiosyncratic situations we can think up that violate our general principles.)  When the news is not negative, there is no excuse for delaying where/when the bottom line appears within the document. It should appear, as it does in the meeting announcement above, at the very beginning. That will satisfy the efficiency needs of Western readers.

Now consider the program announcement below.

TO: College Faculty and Staff
FROM: Senior Associate Dean
SUBJECT: Business Leadership Academy

The Business Leadership Academy has been run at a deficit since its inception.  Last year the loss was approximately $55,000, which was less than many previous years. To make this endeavor self sustaining would require a significant increase in fees to the attendees.  We were concerned that such a large increase in fees would reduce enrollment, resulting in even more deficits. [Administrative Finance Person] and I discussed this at length with [Faculty Leader Person] as well as alternatives to prevent further deficits.  We mutually agreed that none of these would preclude deficits.

I decided that, while this program has been a great success, it did not seem prudent in a financial sense to continue this program.

The program announcement conveys the bottom line: “it did not seem prudent . . . to continue this program.” That’s negative news. The emotional response to negative news involves a process of moving from shock/surprise to acceptance. And that means it might be advisable to delay. But we have to consider more components of sensitivity to make the best choice.

Reader vs. Writer Sensitivity in Negative Messages

The second component we need to recognize is the locus of sensitivity about the negative news. Is the message negatively affecting the reader? Consider the apology email below.

TO: Volunteer Editors
FROM: Director of Editorial Operations
SUBJECT: Journal Schedules

I am writing to you to give you an update on the status of our journal schedules for this year’s issues. Some of you may have already been contacted individually by your staff editor regarding our ability to meet scheduled mail dates this year. Our analysis of our performance to date is disappointing at 8% of all issues mailing either on or before their scheduled date through September. This is compared with our 20% target established for this year. The majority of these delays (approx. 64%) were internal to our Operations Center, while 27% of the delays resulted from receiving material late from the Volunteer Editors. The internal delays are a result of three major challenges we’ve faced this year.

[lengthy description of the three challenges is omitted to save space]

I would like to express my apology for the internal delays and to assure you of our commitment to resolve our performance issues.

In this email, the bottom line message is “I would like to express my apology . . .” Note that it is the writer — not the reader — who is most negatively affected by that message.  Apologizing can be uncomfortable to both the person offering and the person receiving the apology. But it is MOST uncomfortable for the person doing the apologizing.

So what about delaying the bottom line message?  There’s no excuse for decreasing efficiency by delaying just because you, as the writer, are uncomfortable with your message. That means the writer of the apology email should not have delayed.  Instead, that bottom line apology should have been stated in the first sentence or so.  (As well as signaled in the SUBJECT line.)

Compare that apology email to the program announcement from above. The bottom line message, “it did not seem prudent . . . to continue this program,” is negative primarily for the readers. While the writer may have been uncomfortable making the announcement, the readers who are hearing the news are most affected because someone discontinued a program they care about. The emotional response to negative news is a process of moving from shock/surprise to acceptance. Again, it might be advisable to give readers a chance to move toward acceptance by delaying in the program announcement. But we have to consider more components of sensitivity to make the best choice.

Personal & Rare vs. Impersonal & Common Negative Messages

The final components of sensitivity relate to how personal and how rare a bottom line message is. Basically, impersonal and common messages are more likely to be perceived as neutral. In contrast, personal and rare messages are more likely to be perceived as negative (or positive). Consider the rejection email below.

Hi, [Student’s First Name].

I enjoyed meeting you last week. You certainly demonstrated skills that will be relevant to my work with First Tee of Tuscaloosa. Your out-going personality and  interest in PR are valuable assets in doing this type of community outreach project.
Amazingly, another faculty scholar applicant has experience both identifying funding sources and writing grant proposals for non-profits. Because his experience is such a close match with my immediate needs, I have offered him the position.
I regret I cannot offer you a position as well. But the person I have hired will graduate next May so, if you’re still interested in a position for 2014-15, I hope we can talk again. I see a very bright future for you.
Wishing you great success,
Dr. Kim

The bottom line message is definitely a negative one: “I regret I cannot offer you a position . . .” While I, as the writer, was not happy to convey that message, the reader is more sensitive to it than I am.  Most important to this post, the bottom line of the rejection email is both personal and rare for the reader. That means its bottom line is highly negative, and the reader is likely to be highly sensitive to it. As a writer, I signaled my awareness of this level of reader sensitivity by delaying my bottom line message within the document. I judged that the reader’s sensitivity to my bottom line was greater than her desire for efficiency.

Once more, let’s consider the program announcement email. It is neither personal to nor rare for the readers to hear about a program change. (The document notes that the personally affected reader was involved in the decision.) That means its bottom line is somewhat but not highly negative. That level of reader sensitivity does not ordinarily warrant a delay.

When Should You Delay?

The visual below summarizes the guidance I’ve illustrated with examples above. You should delay stating your bottom line if it meets all the following criteria for sensitivity:

  • communicates negative news (like the program announcement and rejection but not the meeting announcement)
  • focuses that negativity primarily on the reader (like the program announcement and rejection but not the apology)
  • conveys negative news that is both personal to the reader and rare (like the rejection but not like the program announcement)

You can predict that, of the examples provided above, only the rejection email is highly sensitive (like sentence #5 in the visual). It’s the only example in which you should definitely delay stating the bottom line message.

Audience Sensitivity

For the program announcement then, readers from Western cultures are likely to prefer efficiency.  You shouldn’t delay unless you know your reader well enough to know he or she expects greater sensitivity than the average Western reader. FWIW: There is some evidence that, as a group, Western women take longer to accept bad news than Western men. Most of the relevant research on sensitivity to messages takes place in health care settings.

Here’s the program announcement, with the bottom line message highlighted below to show its location near the beginning of the document.

TO: College Faculty and Staff
FROM: Senior Associate Dean
SUBJECT: Business Leadership Academy

The Business Leadership Academy has been run at a deficit since its inception.  Last year the loss was approximately $55,000, which was less than many previous years. I decided that, while this program has been a great success, it did not seem prudent in a financial sense to continue this program.

To make this endeavor self sustaining would require a significant increase in fees to the attendees.  We were concerned that such a large increase in fees would reduce enrollment, resulting in even more deficits. [Administrative Finance Person] and I discussed this at length with [Faculty Leader Person] as well as alternatives to prevent further deficits.  We mutually agreed that none of these would preclude deficits.

Speaking of how readers judge writers . . .

It’s a mistake to think your readers aren’t forming perceptions of you based on your written messages . . .  My favorite in this amusing image about text messages is the first one. It’s no coincidence that readers label someone who doesn’t get to the point until the end the “professor.”  Students don’t learn to put the bottom line first until they get hammered by their first boss for writing like a professor! More evidence that academic writing is poor preparation for the writing you do for the rest of your life.


A lesson on the bottom line

Bottom-Line-ButtonThe AACSB peer review team left this morning after a whirlwind onsite accreditation visit to our business school. I shared a copy of our report with you a couple of months ago. Today I want to share a lesson on bottom line messages.

Some background. One area in which the College is reviewed is called Assurance of Learning (AOL). Also sometimes referred to as assessment. Reporting on our AOL activities allows us to document that we know what our students learn in our degree programs and that we continuously improve those programs to enhance student learning. In our accreditation report, we followed a prescribed arrangement of materials with AOL information contained within one section of the body and within the appendices in summary tables. Here’s an example of one of those tables for our undergraduate program (with around 6,500 students currently enrolled).

AOL TableThere are four basic types of information in this table identified with red circles for you (but not in the original document).

  1. The portion of the table devoted to Learning Goals describes the target knowledge or skills for students in a specific degree program. (There are five for our bachelor’s degree.)
  2. The entries for Assessment Tools describe how the learning goals are measured. (Two of these are writing assignments from required courses, which were collected from hundreds of students during spring of 2011 and scored using a faculty-developed rubric by independent raters.)
  3. The content in the Results section describes performance of students on the chosen measures. (For instance, although our students met the target of 80% meeting expectations for professional writing, there was a significant decrease in the percentage who exceeded expectations compared with a couple of years ago.)
  4. The bottom of the table is devoted to Resulting Improvement Initiatives in three categories: curricular changes, assessment procedure changes, and co-curricular changes. (One of the curricular changes recommended in this case was to hire more full-time faculty instead of relying on graduate students to teach professional writing.)

Back to my lesson on the bottom line.

Here’s what happened when our reviewers read our report: They recognized that we had appropriate learning goals and were collecting measures of that learning. However, they questioned whether we were actually using those measurements to drive improvement in our programs. (In the assessment world, this is called “closing the loop” and is obviously of critical importance.) Luckily, when our reviewers visited with our faculty and asked about continuous improvement, we were able to describe examples from lots of degree programs, including the bachelor’s degree.

So what went wrong? As the writer, I failed to understand what the bottom line message of these summary tables was for my readers.  If I had recognized the improvement initiatives as the bottom line (rather than thinking the bottom line was about the appearance of all four aspects of the process), I would have highlighted the improvement initiatives.  How? What is first (or biggest or loudest) has salience. (I’ve written about the psychology behind perception in information design before.) So I could have used some change in typeface or size or color to make this section of the table more salient. Or I could have moved this information out of the table and made it more prominent by discussing it first. Etc.

Here’s what I think is important about this lesson. It’s another reminder that the bottom line message is critical. And that it’s not the same for every reader. In addition, it shows that soliciting comments from readers on drafts (ours saw two versions of the report before it was officially submitted) doesn’t guarantee success. Despite the fact that our readers praised the quality of our report, this bottom line message wasn’t clear to them. So perhaps the critical lesson is about keeping open the possibility of conversation to supplement any written documentation even in — or especially in — a bureaucracy.

The video tutorial on bottom line placement

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.

Related articles

Amateurs (and lawyers) beat around the bush

Most of the world has heard that CNN and Fox News inaccurately reported the US Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Health Care Act last Thursday. Later that day, here’s how Ellen Killoran, a reporter for the International Business Times, explained their error:

The egregious error does not appear to be the result of the news outlets pulling the trigger on pre-prepared reports of possible rulings. It appears rather that journalists misapprehended Roberts’ preamble to the decision as indicative of the ruling itself . . . [emphasis added]

In light of these events, I decided to get to work updating my tutorial on bottom line placement.

Readers determine a document’s main point (what my colleagues Ron Dulek and Jack Fielden defined as the “bottom line”) by what they read first.  When readers are in a hurry, they may only read the beginnning of the document. Ergo readers extract the bottom line from the first few sentences. (More about the psychology of this in a later post.)  I can think of no lesson that is more important to the transition from amateur to pro writer.  Unless you work in the legal profession.

Writing for The Jurist, Tony Locy wrote,

Reporters still need to read the decisions, and read them carefully. That didn’t happen at CNN, Fox News and the re-tweeting news outlets on Thursday because their reporters failed to appreciate that arguments before the Supreme Court are nuanced, with multiple layers, and it is common for lawyers to provide the justices with several options in the Constitution to fall back on to justify ruling one way or another. In the health care case, the solicitor general gave the justices three possibilities. If reporters look for the Court’s response to only one of a party’s arguments, as CNN, Fox News and re-tweeters did, they increase their chances of being wrong.

Ms. Locy argues that US Supreme Court Justices should expect their audience to read carefully. I don’t buy her argument. But I won’t debate it here. I do, however, guarantee you will fail in your profession (even if you become an attorney) if you adopt the same expectation. When you beat around the bush, your readers will accuse you of being confused or lazy or weak or self-centered or deceitful. And they will avoid reading whatever you send them whenever possible.

To help amateurs avoid the negative consequences of beating around the bush, the upcoming tutorial refers to an Email Job Update. 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

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