Framing Your Message, Part 2


Last week, we looked at the prime location for workplace writers to frame their messages: the subject line of an email. For most of us, email is the most frequent medium of written communication, and the subject line box is sitting there yearning to be filled with something akin to a newspaper headline. So instead of just sticking Fundraiser in the subject line, let’s lead the reader into the email with Need three more fundraiser volunteers or Fundraiser program change or Fundraiser expected to draw 500 donors.

In this post, as promised, we’ll cite a few other opportunities to enhance reader interest and comprehension by making sure the reader knows where our message is headed.

What’s your lead?

Journalists (we’ve mentioned their sound approach before) craft an opening sentence that gives readers a solid sense of what an article is going to cover. We need to do the same in a letter, report, or PowerPoint.

If we’re composing a letter to ask Jo Doakes to serve on our Marketing Committee, do we begin with background on our organization and the committee’s purpose so she has a context? I don’t think so. The key to deciding which component of a message goes where is identifying with the reader, and I’m betting Jo wants to know pretty quickly why she’s receiving this letter. Otherwise, she might stop reading. So let’s begin with the invitation to serve.

Even meeting notes can borrow from the journalistic principle of the “inverted pyramid” by leading with the most important or interesting development at the meeting, rather than the one that occurred first. Sitting through meetings can be tedious enough; why make reading their summaries a similar experience?

Continual framing

Is there more to framing than announcing the thrust of the message at the beginning and then dispensing information in descending order of importance? Yes. We should also continually frame within a document at the beginning of many paragraphs and sentences to give the reader a smooth ride.

Transitional words and phrases depend on the subject matter, but it helps to build a repertoire of context-setters. “Moreover” and “In addition” alert the reader we are continuing the previous point. “On the other hand,” “Conversely,” and “Paradoxically” help the reader switch gears.” “Although” and “Despite” prepare the reader for contrasting points in the rest of the sentence. “Unfortunately,” “Obviously,” and “Surprisingly” prepare the reader while making writing more personal.

And we can frame by using subheads, as I’ve done twice in this post and covered on November 19 (

We all love stories, but the reality is that a narrative style almost never serves us well in workplace writing. Our emails, letters, memos, and other written works should tip our hand right at the beginning – and continue to reveal where we’re headed all the way through.

In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at

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