At Stoa, we take writing detailed documentation and async communication very seriously. And the reason has to do with how we started. For a long time, we were a fully remote company with team members located across different states in India.
Naturally, there was no small talk going on and not much interaction happening between team members, besides work talk. What we realized is that writing skills are still pretty underrated when it comes to communicating remotely, without context gaps or misunderstandings. To the point that it is almost absurd how much good documentation, or heck, even being systematically better at communicating on Slack and email can add to a team's productivity.
The cost of a poorly drafted document or email can result in lots of wasted time, reduce company morale, create misunderstandings between teammates, etc. Hence, time invested in learning how to communicate clearly will always have a big positive return, regardless if you're working remotely or from office, as a lot of communication still happens via Slack and email.
In fact, you'd be so much better off in your career if you only learned how to write better emails. And I think, with a few simple tips, it is achievable for most people.
Today, I'm going to share with you a simple yet effective framework the US Military uses to write emails with military precision.
It is called the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) Technique.
As the name suggests, Military professionals lead their emails with a short statement known as the BLUF.
It declares the purpose of the email and the action required. The BLUF should quickly answer the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why and it should distill the most important information for the reader.
And it starts with having clear keywords in the subject of the email itself.
Some of these keywords include:
ACTION – Compulsory for the recipient to take some action
SIGN – Requires the signature of the recipient
INFO – For informational purposes only, and there is no response or action required DECISION – Requires a decision by the recipient
REQUEST – Seeks permission or approval by the recipient
COORD – Coordination by or with the recipient is needed
Here is an example of a BLUF adapted for the workplace.
Stuff in brackets is for your own understanding.
Subject: ACTION - Approve designs for Independence Day Campaign
The designs are ready with all feedback incorporated and I need you to approve them so that they can be handed over to the social media team for posting. (BOTTOM LINE or REQUEST)
You can find the designs here: (INFORMATION)
<link to the designs>
This social media campaign is scheduled to go live on 15th August and I will need your approval latest by 12th August. If you want to refer to the last round of feedback, here it is: (CONSTRAINTS + PAST CONTEXT TO HELP DECISION)
<link to feedback>
Let me know if there are any blockers or if I can help in any way. (CONSIDERATION FOR THE OTHER PERSON'S SITUATION)
This way, Priya knows that she needs to act on something because it starts with a clear request to take an action. And she gets all the necessary context in the email in order to give the approval.
1. Start with an action word mentioning what the email is about/what needs to be done
2. Provide complete context about what needs to be done in a single statement at the start of the email
3. Provide background context that might help the recipient make the decision quickly
4. Have empathy and consideration for their work
A lot of misunderstandings arise in the workplace because people are inconsiderate: they don't think how the other person will think after reading their message, nor do they consider the situation the other person might be in when they receive their message. The person might be in the other team, they might not have the full context, they might be pressed with their own work... it is important to acknowledge all these factors.
Making sure you provide full context as to what you want them to do and having empathy for any constraints they might be facing on their end is key to smooth communication.
Be precise. Be exhaustive. Be clear. And most importantly, have empathy.