Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

Always assume your readers are about to skim through your reports and emails.

There are some simple ways to stop them skimming and wasting all your work, but it pays to be on your guard.

Give them variety

In emails and reports, break up your paragraphs so that some are short, some longer. (Don't defy logic to do it.)

Be aware that sans serif fonts (with no curly bits) like Arial are more difficult to scan. The serif fonts like Times Roman are too old-fashioned these days so use Arial, but know that you'll have to work even harder to keep your readers engaged.

Left-justify your text so that the lines are of varied length.

In emails and on your website, use one-sentence paragraphs often.

Make your text 'chunky'

Use sub-headings to package ideas together.

Use tables, diagrams, text boxes and short bullet point lists.

Engage them with the words

Your reports will be more formal than your emails, but still think of them as part of a conversation. If it's a report for the board, imagine you are talking to the board members at the boardroom table. It won't be chatty, but it shouldn't be stuffy or academic either. If you'd be embarassed to speak it, don't write it.

Whenever possible, make the first sentence in your paragraph a key point. Everything else in the paragraph should support the key point. We call that format, 'state and expand'.

Use a bit of psychology

Stimulate their curiosity.

In emails (and in presentations) you can use a version of the line from the infomercials: 'but wait there's more!'.


How about: 'There's one thing I want to stress', 'There's one thing we must do', Here's what I need from you', 'There's something else and it's important'.

Still thinking of steak knives? Choose words to match your taste and readers. Set those enticers apart in a separate single-paragraph sentence. Don't use enticers in reports. (In that context, it's OTT.)

So what's the test of success?

If you've engaged them they will do what you ask, disagree with you, or comment on a point you made page 23 of your report.

If they say, 'Your report looked good' and have nothing to add, you lost them.

About Ralph Brown

ralph brown blog3

Ralph is our founder and managing director. He has a background in psychology, television journalism and business.

Ralph's passions are psychology and writing. He leads workshops on both and speaks to conferences on the psychology of thriving at work.

In 2011  Professional Speakers Australia awarded him its top speaking accreditation, the CSP.

He has written six books and more than a hundred articles on psychology and writing. International research journals have published his articles reviewing the research on resilience.

Ralph's enjoys trips to France. He lives in rural Canterbury.

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