QUICK WINS – how to transform a document in minutes

25th August 2015

Improving documents is important.

Improving documents quickly even more so.

As you’d expect, people often give me documents to review. Here’s the order I go through things:

  1. Professional look and feel. Does it look the part? Good formatting, page layout etc?
  2. Agreed upfront. Did the writer ask the reader upfront what content she wanted in the document? If so, does the document contain this information? If not, can the writer contact the reader now, to have a quick chat about content, and make any necessary changes before sending?
  3. A clear Call To Action. Is there one? If so, is it easy for them to do it? Is it clear what the first step should be? If there isn’t one, what should it be? (remember: unless you ask them to do something, they won’t)
  4. A good title. The first page must engage. Does it show why the document is important to the reader? Is there a benefit in there – in the title and/or subtitle?
  5. An interesting contents page. Are the sections’ titles interesting? Do they draw the reader in? Are they framed from the reader’s point of view, or the writer’s? Does the order/structure make sense?
  6. Easy to read. Are paragraphs short? Sentences one line max? Is there lots of light space? Also, column width: our eyes don’t like sweeping across wide columns of text – we miss things (that’s why newspapers’ columns are so narrow). So, is the document in portrait? Or, if landscape, subdivided into columns?
  7. Engaging top lines. When people skim-read, they pay most attention to the top lines of paragraphs. So, do your top lines engage? Or, are your main points in the bottom half of paragraphs? If so, either swap the order of your sentences; or press “return” more often, so you have more paragraphs
  8. Good visuals. Are there some? Are they clear, easy to read? Do they look professional?
  9. Short as possible. Does it look like the document could be shorter? Maybe some of the detail could go in the appendix? There’s always something that can be removed – what is it?

I find this list picks up most things pretty quickly. It isn’t exhaustive, of course. Your list would no doubt look different. But it’s important you do have a list. A five-minute review can make all the difference… and takes a lot less time than all the chasing you need to do if the document doesn’t work.

The great thing about lists like this is you only have to think it through once (to create the list). It’s then just a case of having the discipline to use it all the time. So…

Action Point

Create a short Review List – either use mine or build your own. Apply it to a document today. Then, put the list somewhere visible – don’t do the usual thing of putting notes in a special drawer that you forget about, only to discover again by accident six months from now!

We’ll be creating lots of lists/guidance like this at my seminar with Drayton Bird on 20 October 2015. It’s taking place in The Churchill Rooms, London – a great place to spend the day, network with successful people and learn new, proven ways to grow your business/career. Here’s more blurb about it

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