To finish well, first start well

Sydney-Hobart‘Many races are won on the start line.  To finish well, it’s usually vital to start well.’

That was the opinion of one of the most successful sailing coaches I ever had the opportunity to work with.  But it’s also good advice for writers.  Capture your reader’s attention early; and keep them engaged right to the end.

From where I sit, too many writers of business documents begin by ‘warming their engines’.  Rather that coming right out and saying: ‘Here’s what we can do for you,’ they waffle on for two or three pages – sometimes more – about ‘the changing dynamics of the market space’ or some such high-sounding twaddle.

Recently, a client sent me a draft of her company’s response to an RFP.  ‘What do you think?’ she asked.

I phoned her with my own question: ‘Why did you wait until page nine to offer a solution?’

For a moment or two, she said nothing.  I could picture her frowning at the other end of the phone.  And then she said: ‘Well, you know, I thought that we should establish our credentials.  I thought that we should demonstrate that we understand the sector, where it is at, how it got there, where it might be headed.’

‘And do you think your prospective client would have sent you the RFP if they thought that you did not understand the sector?’

‘Umm … no.  I guess not,’ she said.

Between the two of us, we cut and pasted and polished the draft, offering up the solution in the very first paragraph.  We also crafted a final paragraph designed to leave the prospect in no doubt about what they needed to do next.  Of course, that perfectly-crafted final paragraph would have been a total waste of time and effort if we failed to hook the readers in the first paragraph and then keep them reading right to the end.

In the words of the distinguished author, editor, and publisher Sol Stein: ‘A terrific ending will never be experienced by a reader put off by a poor beginning.’

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