Do Your Readers Want the Dish or the Recipe?

Many people who attend my business writing courses want to be more concise. Often their problem is too many words. Sometimes it's long sentences, and sometimes it's repetition. Occasionally the problem is that they use a chunk of thick text when a chart could convey their meaning instantly.

Eric, a participant in a recent online Writing Tune-Up, described his need for conciseness this way:

"If my communication were a restaurant menu, I need to present the name of the dish, not the recipe."

I like Eric's description of his goal. It's not about the number of words or the length of sentences. It's about giving his readers what they need.

When you are working to write more concisely, imagine your readers reviewing your "menu." What are they looking for? Just the names of the dishes? The ingredients or other details? The prices?

Or do they really need the complete recipe?

Unless your readers need to do what you do, they don't need all the details you could convey. They need only to scan your menu–not to follow your recipe.

Do you have a good metaphor for concise writing like Eric's? I welcome your comments.

Syntax Training


  1. You know, I find it very tiring when reading very long articles that just goes around in circles. A lot of article writers that I know think that by providing readers a lot of sentences, metaphors and a play with words, they’ll catch their attention. And that’s where they’re wrong.

  2. I’ve often said when trying to be concise “The reader asked what time it is; not how to build a watch!”

  3. I think what writers forget is all the reader needs is the relevant information to follow their argument. They don’t need any other details and in fact further information tends to obscure the message. It’s what I like to call “the need to know” principle.

Comments are closed.