“News Style” Writing Format Provides Vehicle for Clear, Concise Communication

Concise communication can be achieved by structuring the communication in a format similar to a newspaper article:

  1. Headline
  2. Summary sentence with important details (who, what, when, where, how, why)
  3. Background and details

Last week at work, I helped facilitate a class on how to communicate effectively. The presentation was mainly about communicating in a manner that flows like a newspaper article in order to get the main point with crucial information across quickly.

I never realized that when you read a newspaper article, all the crucial information is in the first few sentences, if not just the headline. With the advent of cellphones, getting a message across in a concise manner is vital. After all  that’s the principal Twitter was founded on. I have often scrolled through the various news apps I have on my phone, zipping right by major news articles, yet feeling as if I already knew what the articles were about.  One of the most fascinating things I learned in this class is that newspaper articles are designed so that you can read up to any point in the article and still feel like you’re at the end, having already consumed all the important information.

During the presentation, we learned that you can apply this technique to business emails, but I have also realized its importance in verbal communication.

Applying News Style to Email

One way you can organize your emails using the news format is to include key information in the subject and quick bullets in the body.

Subject: Complete and Send Me Budget Spreadsheet before Annual Budget Meeting on Monday @ 10am

Body: 

Jason,

I need the following from you before Monday:

Actions:

    • Complete budget spreadsheet
    • Vet spreadsheet with me

Next Steps:

    • Once spreadsheet is ready, I will distribute to meeting attendees prior to meeting

Thank you,
Robert

Applying News Style to Conversations

News style can also be applied to conversations by starting a informational verbal communication with a summary of the message followed by any details you wish to convey. This is perfect if you need to communicate an important piece of information without providing too much background in case the person you are trying to communicate to does not have the time for additional information.

Following the presentation, I noticed a conversation I had where I should have used the “news style” method. Here is what it probably sounded like:

Person 1: Have you looked into how to play three-player racquetball?
Me: Yea. I actually played on Friday. There were these two guys playing racquetball in the gym so I decided to ask if I could join. I actually had met them a week or so ago and exchanged numbers, but I ran into them again playing so I decided to ask if I could join them. We ended up playing a version called cut-throat. It is essentially where one player serves and the other two players receive it. However, once the ball is served anyone can return it.
Person 1: So it is not really two “teams”?
Me: No. That’s why it is called cut-throat. The last person who returns the ball gets the ball.
Person 1:Ah. The version I played was where there was one server and two returners and the ball had to be hit by alternating between the server and the original returners.
Me: Yea. That’s definitely not how my version worked, but we did change how we played it halfway through.

Etc……

This conversation was actually a bit more in depth, but you can see the level of detail and disorganization that existed in our conversation.  I have a habit (that I need to kick) of not answering a question directly, instead feeding details into my conversations to form a story. At the start of my job, I was given the feedback that I need to frame conversations when I run a meeting with people who are unfamiliar with the topic. I think I took this framing too far recently, incorporating the concept into all of my communication instead of just in meetings.

A revised conversation of the one above using a modified “news style” format could have been:

Person 1: Have you looked into how to play three-player racquetball?
Me: Yea. I played a three person game called cut-throat last Friday with some people who live in my apartment complex. We could play a modified version of that game.”
Person 1: That sounds great. How do you play?
Me: Essentially one player serves and the other two players receive it. However, once the ball is served, anyone can return it.
Person 1: That’s different than the two player game I have played, but we can give it a go.

By summarizing the details into one sentence, I was able to eliminate the unnecessary details that provided no additional substance to the conversation. The co-worker did not care about how I had met the people from the apartment complex, he just wanted to know whether I knew how to play a three person game. I not only leaned the conversation, I actually answered the question.

I know people who are notorious for these sorts of conversations where they will often talk without even allowing interjections by other parties. In addition to being concise, you also want to leave plenty of “space” in the conversation to allow other parties to provide commentary so that a conversation does not become a monologue. As you can see, in the ideal conversation above, by eliminating the details and only focusing on the core point, I allowed my co-worker to ask questions, facilitating a conversation.