Simplify, simplify, simplify

One of the biggest challenges of a good info pro or researcher is to know when to say when. If we have five hours to spend on a project, we want to spend the entire time gathering information, evaluating it, seeing what’s missing, gathering some more, looking for more missing parts… you get the picture. Then, when our time’s up, we pull all the information together, slap on a cover letter explaining all the approaches we took and why we’re including what we have, and then proudly send it along to our client.

This, of course, does a huge disservice to most clients. If they wanted information overload, they could Google it themselves. Clients ask an info pro or researcher to help answer a question because they have confidence we can not just find the best information given the time frame (and budget, if applicable) but distill it down to something that enables the client to take an action, finish a project, complete a presentation, or otherwise move on to the next step in their work.

I was talking with a coaching client recently about her deliverables; she was struggling with providing the best service possible while not overwhelming her client with too much information. After talking with her about creating value-added deliverables, we focused on the need to make her report as frictionless as possible for her boss. The higher up the org chart you get, the more the recipient expects distilled answers, with a minimum of extra verbiage. After our call, she sent me an email summarizing the conversation. Her bulleted list not only captured the key points I talked about but she practiced the advice in how she summarized it. Here, in short, were her key takeaways:

  • Distill, distill, distill
  • Keep it brief and to the point
  • Include plenty of white space
  • Bullet points are our friends

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

4 comments on “Simplify, simplify, simplify

  1. Just the piece I needed as I get ready to write my “year in review” for my board…….thanks!

  2. As Mary Ellen said, this is something many of us have talked about, but we ALL need reminders. Something I’ve done now and then is to go back to an old client report and look at it objectively. Sometimes I’ve thought oh, cool, that’s pretty clear. Other times, especially on much older reports, I find myself struggling to find the key takeaways! Try it. It can be humbling. Then do what MEB says!

  3. Terri, yes – it’s so tempting to try to do a data dump of your brain and present that to the board, and all that happens is their eyes roll back in their head as they mutter TL;DR…

  4. In grad school, I had a professor give us an assignment of 1 page or less. Best assignment ever. Not because it was so short, but because it taught me the importance of concise writing when working with a client.

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