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Writing for short attention spans

targetIt’s no secret that people’s attention spans are shrinking, and shrinking fast. According to recent studies the average person’s attention span is now only 7-8 seconds long. That means you have roughly eight seconds to grab your stakeholder’s attention and engage them enough to get your message across so they can take action. With messages piling up in your stakeholders’ inboxes, it’s more important than ever to make your emails brief enough when you can to have an impact before they become distracted.

As most government communications professionals know, however, writing messages that are both concise and clear is a lot harder than it sounds. And to add to that, many government communicators sometimes don’t have the free rein to simply cut or edit whatever they want. There’s a lot of vital information to communicate, and it often has to be communicated in a very particular way. So, given those restraints, what can government agencies do to adapt their digital comms to their stakeholders’ short attention spans?

Here are a couple (short!) tips and tricks:


Joe McCormack, author of the new book Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less, suggests using a BRIEF (background, relevance, information, ending, and follow-up) strategy to start shaping your messages. How does BRIEF work? After you’ve decided on the topic for your email, figure out the following elements and structure the contents of your message around them. First, make sure to include any necessary background to frame the topic. Ensure the relevance to the audience is clear. Then add in any necessary bullet points of key information about the topic and lead to the ending/conclusion with any follow-up (call to action) that needs to happen next.

Utilize links

Unless your message is incredibly simple it’s going to be  tough to include all the relevant information in one email. Luckily, however, that’s exactly what links and websites are for. Keep the content of your messages brief so they’re focused solely on one or two important points or calls to action, but include links to a webpage where they can find the details is a great solution to this problem. While you might be competing against hundreds of other emails and text messages to grab your stakeholder’s attention initially, once you’ve got it, sending them to a webpage so they can dive deeper into the details is a natural next step (and a great way to measure the engagement and effect of your emails to boot!).

Want more tips on writing effective emails? Check out our previous blogs on creating more personalized communications and fighting jargon in your messages.