In all the years that I’ve been writing business communications, I’ve very often done one thing during the editing process that has really made a big difference: I move the last sentence in a paragraph up to become the first one in that paragraph.
Sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? But, the fact is that every time I do it, the flow of my narrative improves and the copy overall is much tighter.
But my idea isn’t new. In fact, I first picked it up when Kelvin Prescott posted an article in the Bid and Proposal Management Professionals group. He discussed how he’d learned what’s known as the ‘Top Down Thinking Process’, which is based on The Pyramid Principle written by Barbara Minto way back in 1978.
So, what’s the basic concept?
Whatever it is that you’re writing – be it an article, a tender, or some kind of B2B content – you simply:
WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY. THEN, TAKE THE LAST LINE. PUT IT AT THE START. REWRITE IT.
It works because, for most of us, when we write copy we get super-easily bogged down in what we’re trying to say and end up making our most important point last. But by then, we might have lost our reader. So, by putting that major impact statement at the beginning, we make the reader sit up, pay attention and carry on following our message. How great is that?
Here’s that process again:
- Write what you want to say in the same order as you think of it
- Take the last line you wrote, cut and paste it to the start of the paragraph or piece of copy
- Rewrite the paragraph so that it makes sense and flows
- Anything that doesn’t fit that paragraph – cut it out.
Why does it work?
According to Kelvin Prescott, it’s all about the difference between the way we remember things and the way that we learn. But for your purposes, when you’re trying to grab the attention of your readers, make sure that what you want them to understand– that all important nuggety fact that’s going to make a difference to your message – is right up there at the beginning.
Sceptical? Then try it out for yourself. What have you got to lose? All I know is that it works for me, every time. Using this trick makes my copy sharper and the message I’m trying to get across on behalf of my clients comes across immediately, loud and clear. And isn’t that what we all want?