Context is king.
Our readers ask us a lot of questions. And the questions they ask us are often quite simple:
Who are you? What do you want? Why are you writing to me?
What do you want me to do? Why? How? When? Where?
Unfortunately, we often don’t listen.
Context helps you listen.
Think of context as anticipating your reader’s questions, and answering them.
For example, a few weeks ago, a client sent me this:
One of our participants needs all course material sent to her ahead of time so she can review it.
My assumption was the student wanted to determine if it was worth her time to attend the class.
Hmmm. Not sure I liked that idea. Because just looking at the workbook and Powerpoint was limiting. She would not listen to my presentation, participate in the discussions, hear people’s comments, or have other in-class experiences. She’d get an incomplete picture of the workshop.
And so, I deemed it a mildly annoying task and added it to my to-do list. Where it sat for a few days, inching a notch or two farther toward the bottom of the list each day.
But in the back of my mind, I had nagging questions.
I wonder why she needs the material? Can I send her PDFs? Why would she want to review them? What does she hope to accomplish?
One day I decided to ask Roger those questions.
And thus I learned the student is sight impaired.
Ah, some context I needed!
Now I knew why she wanted the material. And I knew how to give it to her in a way that would be most useful for her. Plus, I’ll now be better prepared when she attends our workshop next week.
Context cleared my confusion.
So the next time you begin to write an email, think about simple questions your reader might have, and answer them with context.
It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to.
-- Jean-Luc Godard
Questions we like.
Questions to ponder.