Never let facts speak for themselves

Young boy holding book and looking shockedA few years ago, a leading NHS trauma surgeon I was working with transformed treatment in her emergency department. She did it, not with a scalpel or the latest medical device, but with a lowly Word document.

She’d needed approval for a new way to prioritise the most urgent cases. Her idea would free up medical staff to treat patients who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

And a written proposal was her only route to persuading the hospital’s top brass to adopt the new system.

Not only did her document succeed, but it literally saved lives.

But not all documents fare so well.


The problem

Documents have the potential for incredible power.

They can transcend corporate hierarchies, taking our message to senior colleagues that we’d rarely (if ever) get to speak to in person.

They can get us noticed by important decision-makers.

IF, that is, anyone reads them.

Way too many of the best ideas and far too much important information get trapped in documents that nobody reads.

It’s easy to assume that merely typing something into a document is enough to convey it to our target audience. We think we can let the facts speak for themselves.

But facts can’t speak.

If they could, we’d just chuck them down as bullet points and call it a day. (I’ve seen people do that, by the way. It rarely goes well.)


One voice

The facts might not speak, but the reader’s brain does. So the only voice they’ll hear while reading is the one in their own head.

Ideally, that voice will translate the dots and squiggles you typed on your screen into the same voice you had in your own head too.

Get it wrong, though, and you’ll be drowned out. All they’ll hear will be nagging questions, like why they even have to read this document, or what on earth it all means anyway.


What a waste

Often, that’s when the voice goes quiet. Because the reader stops reading and remembers something else they’d rather do instead.

So if your ideas are good or the information you have is important, don’t waste them in a document that’s hard to read.

Remember: facts alone can’t speak. So you need to give your documents a human voice.


Get it read

Reading is an unnatural process for our brains. So people are always teetering on the edge of finding something easier to do.

I’ve talked more about this in Are you driving your readers to distraction?

Essentially, there are two keys to success: get them reading, then keep them reading.

I explained how to hook your reader in a recent issue: This Netflix technique works for documents too.

And you can keep people reading by reducing friction in your writing.

Never forget: people read until they can stop. Then they do.

If you need more help, we can show you how to apply all these ideas in our high-impact writing courses.

We tailor them to our clients’ needs. So don’t worry if you’re not sure which one to go for.


Main image credit: Ben White / Unsplash

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