Concise Writing ‘Post-It’ Style

20 January 2011


Word count:  540

Estimated reading time:  5 minutes



   image by skenmy


I recently read an interesting article by Mark McGuinness called ‘If It Won’t Fit On A Post-It, It Won’t Fit In Your Day’.


I immediately began to wonder – could his idea work for the content of a business document? Is it possible to limit the amount of what I write so that it fits onto a 3x3-inch Post-It?


Hmmm. Well, this article is already longer than that! But Mark’s idea still has some great lessons on how to write concisely.


What’s your main message?

To make his to-do list manageable for a single day’s work, Mark writes the most important thing he needs to get done that day in the top left corner of the Post-It.


The equivalent ‘most important thing’ in a document is your main message or purpose. Think about this when you’re planning – and write it down in a purpose statement. For example, I’d like to show you how to use post-its to make your writing more concise.


What questions will your readers ask about that message?

After jotting down the most important action, Mark then writes other items he needs to get done that day roughly in priority order.


The equivalent in planning a document is to list questions about the main message your readers would want you to answer.


You can only write a few questions on a 3x3-inch Post-It. And that’s probably all that most readers will have the time (and attention span) to read in your document.


My Post-It plan for this article

Here’s my ‘post-it plan’ for this article:

            How to use Post-Its to make writing more concise

--How do you do it?

--What if there isn’t enough room?

--What are the benefits?


Not enough room?

If the list of things to do gets too long for that one Post-It note, Mark starts a new one for the next day. This is because he knows that he can only get a few meaningful things done in a single day.


The same applies with a document. Your readers have limited time. So figure out the absolutely most important thing they need to know and give them it to them. The rest can wait until another day (or another document).


With long documents, like reports, you could prepare a post-it plan for each section or chapter.


Benefits of this system

Mark notes three main benefits from his Post-It system:

1) It forces him to think hard about his priorities.

2) It limits him to what he can realistically get done in one day.

3) It keeps him from feeling guilty about not doing everything on a long to-do list.


With traditional to-do lists, Mark says that even if he starts and finishes 5 or 6 things, before long 6 or 7 other things are added to the list. So he always feels like he’s getting nowhere. The Post-It system does away with that frustration.


Using a system like this for writing documents will provide similar benefits. It will force you to think about the main message of a document and the likely questions that readers will want you to answer in it. Ouila! Instant planner!


If you’d like to read Mark’s full article, here’s the link. 

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