This is a brilliant tip for whatever you’re writing. And it is very powerful.
Think about writing emails. You might have an issue that you’ve been trying to fix. There may be a dozen or so people copied in on the email. Some are high up in the organisation, some are lower down. Everybody has a lot of emails to wade through every day.
But you find a fix for the issue. It make sense to you when you’re telling everybody to go through it in a methodical way – the kind you learned in science lessons at school. Apparatus, Method. Results. Conclusions. It’s the way we were taught to do it. And it’s part of the scientific method. At least, as far as we understand it.
So you start talking about the problem, how it first appeared, the trouble-shooting process, the things that definitely weren’t causing the problem, (we turned this off, tested again, tried another thing, tested again) and then finally say how you found the issue and fixed it.
What you should do is start your email saying “We found the issue and fixed it”. More than half the distribution list can then ignore the rest of the message. Problem solved. The ones that care enough can read through to the end, find out about your trouble-shooting process and, if they’re that way inclined, can replicate each step for themselves.
The science we’re taught in schools is quite separate from the way professional science works. At school, we’re taught to put important bit at the end. But if you ever read any kind of scientific paper, you’ll see that they tend to have the conclusions up at the beginning. Why? Because it makes it easier for science journalists to write headlines. And, although summing up scientific research in a headline may not necessarily enhance the greater understanding of what is going on, headlines tend to lead to more research grants. And scientists like research grants.
More broadly, journalists will always put the important bits at the beginning of a story. If you look at any big story in a paper it will break down into three parts – here’s a thing that happened – here’s why it’s good or bad – here are the facts. It’s always worth reading past the opinion and getting to the facts because they often change your understanding of the story. For instance – “House price rises cause cancer”, the headline may scream. “Thousands of Britons are putting themselves at increased risk of cancer as they work ever longer hours to meet high mortgage payments. This is a terrible indictment of our society, blah, blah, blah”. Tucked away at the end of the story though will be a fact about the survey, which is actually about the health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle. If you just read the headline and the opinion you’d never understand that.
So start off with where you want to get to and write backwards from there. “In the future retailers will send boxes of groceries directly to a customer’s door on miniature flying robots”. Then talk about how and why.
But where do you want the end to be?
“The End” as it relates to this tip can simply be the conclusions that you want to reach. The flying robots. You can take it a step further, though, and think about “The End” as being the effect you have on the reader. “I want the reader to have their mind blown after they’ve read this”. “I want the reader to laugh out loud six times as they read this”. “I want the reader to quit their job and go and live as a hermit in the Himalayas”. It’s kind of similar to the idea of selling to your customer’s customer. Aim through your target.
This tip works really well with presentations. If you want to give a confident presentation, before you start putting it together imagine the warm applause at the end, or the handshakes and congratulations that come when you’ve finished. If you see that as the end of your presentation, you’ll be more confident about giving your talk, because you’ve already decided that it’s going to end in a nice place. All you have to do is put together and deliver a talk that will get you to your destination.