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Do Your Readers Want the Dish or the Recipe?

Updated September 7, 2022: 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

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

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