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Virtual First | Communication Kit

Write with brevity

BLUF: Bottom Line Up Front. When sharing information in distributed teams, answer the five W’s — who, what, where, when, and why — as quickly and efficiently as possible. An Economist Impact survey found that 157 hours are lost annually due to a range of inefficient work practices, including unproductive messages from workplace chat apps — this equates to nearly 20 working days.


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Step 1: Write like you’re out of breath

Ideally, sentences should have fewer than 15 words. This improves clarity. Force your brain to think this way by pretending you’re out of breath. When you’re struggling to catch your breath, you only say what matters. Brevity begins as a state of mind.

Step 2: Say the last thing first

Write your request as you normally would. Make sure that you’ve provided enough information for others to loop themselves in. Now, cut the last line and paste it at the top. 9 times out of 10, this simple act will bring your ask up front. You may need to tweak the line or gently reframe the lines after, but this abrupt switch will rewire your brain to think about the bottom line first and list it up front.


Humans are storytellers. We love character development, story arcs, and punch lines. We’re used to setting things up and then delivering the real news. Brevity requires you to think differently — and do the opposite. 

Step 3: Eliminate ambiguity

Actively avoid words which weaken your point. Use hard figures instead of roundabouts like “nearly” or “almost.” If you spot an adverb, remove it. (Example: replace “increased massively” with “added 400 new members.”) To avoid doing this manually, paste your communication into online editor tools and consider their recommendations (be mindful of your organization’s policies and remove any confidential information). 
From Dropbox

More tips for clear and concise writing

Check out these other practices from the Virtual First Toolkit: 

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From Others

Great resources from experts we trust

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3 easy wins

Build the habit

  • Tomorrow: Flip your next paragraph so that the last line is first. See how this creates clarity!
  • Next week: Add as many hard figures as possible into your next team or status update
  • Quarterly: Force your next “one-pager” to be half a page