This is a
dramatic -- and highly exaggerated -- example of what I immodestly
call "Yaffe's Law". It states: If you give people
what they want first, they are likely to accept anything else
you want them to have. If you give them what you want first,
chances are they won’t accept anything at all.
By telling you that you could gain $300,000 by reading the
telephone listings, I sparked your interest. Put more bluntly,
I immediately answered the question that every good writer
or presenter should ask themselves: "Why the hell would
anyone want to read what I am going to write or listen to
what I am going to say?" Or from the audience's point
of view: "What's in it for me?"
If you can't answer this question, then you might as
well shut down the computer and go back to sleep, because
anything you produce will be largely wasted time. Answering
this question is not always easy; in fact, it is often very
difficult. But unless you make the effort, you can hardly
expect your audience to it for you. Here are a couple of examples
to make the truth of Yaffe's Law more concrete.
1 Original A piece of electronic equipment
installed in automobiles could allow insurance companies
to monitor the driving behavior of their customers.
Each time a motorist uses the car, the device will record
the roads being traveled and the time of the journey,
and send the information via satellite to the insurance
company. With this data, the company will be able to
calculate the insurance premium for each individual
journey based on the relative risk of crashes on the
different roads at different times of the day. The motorist
will receive a monthly or quarterly “usage statement”,
similar to a telephone bill, itemizing the insurance
cost for each use of the car.
to the system, motorists could save hundreds of dollars
on their automobile insurance. Because of the lower
risk of crashes, trips on superhighways will cost less
per kilometer than on city roads and
save hundreds of dollars on their automobile insurance by
allowing their driving habits be monitored by a satellite-tracking
device installed in the vehicle. Each time a motorist uses
his car, the device will record the roads being traveled and
the time of the journey, and send the information to the insurance
company. The company will then calculate the insurance premium
based on an assessment of the relative risk of crashes on
the different roads at different times of the day. Motorists
will receive a monthly or quarterly “usage statement”, similar
to a telephone bill, giving the insurance cost for each journey.
Because of the lower risk of crashes, trips on superhighways
will cost less per kilometer than on city roads and . .
the fourth paragraph of the Original to the first paragraph
of the Revision changes everything. Who wouldn’t want to know
how to save hundreds of dollars on their automobile insurance?
Example 2 Original People
with mild but measurable memory problems who took the drug
donepezil, trademarked Aricep, delayed the onset of Alzheimer’s
disease by an average of six months, a study showed. The research
indicates that the drug works for just a short time and then
stops. Still, the report is the first to find a drug therapy
that delays the onset of Alzheimer’s in people at high risk
of the disease. The result does not directly take researchers
closer to a cure for the disease, but understanding how the
drug prevents its onset could provide some important clues.
Donepezil, trademarked Aricep, has been shown to
delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in people at high risk,
the first time any drug therapy has ever demonstrated such
an effect. A clinical study reported that the drug delayed
onset of Alzheimer’s by an average of six months in people
with mild but measurable memory problems, a strong risk factor.
Six months of course is not very long. However, the fact that
the drug worked at all is already a breakthrough, because
it could provide important clues towards better prevention,
treatment, and even a cure.
As you may have guessed, these two examples are taken from
newspapers. This is typical of how good newspapers are written
because this is typically how people want to read. But does
the same technique apply outside of newspapers, and in
particular in the type of writing you do? Indeed it does.
Because whatever kind of text, people still typically want
to get the information in the same way:
1. A clear, concise statement of what the text contains
2. A clear indication (if not an actual statement) of "what's
in it for me?"
When you read documents, isn't this how you would want them
structured? Then this is how you should write them.