BLUF-ing

– Yes, your honor. I am guilty of reaching the point somewhat later in the conversation than needed. It’s just that I so enjoy the lead-up to the killer main argument. And I like language.

– No matter. You have been found guilty of verbosity and tangents, and are hereby sentenced to BLUF.

So, what is BLUF?

Well, it’s military speak for Bottom Line Up Front, or otherwise put, leading with your main point.

Why is it relevant to us? It’s because most professional communication is targeted to people who are really busy, or at least try to appear so, and therefore don’t have the time or the willingness to spend hours reading a long-winded text in order to understand what you’re getting at. This reality is at the basis of  many business communication staples, such as the executive summary. The key points and main findings or conclusions are neatly packaged in a page or less. the bulk of the process, with all its ramifications, follows in the report to be read or not, at the executives leisure.

It’s also a fundamental part of journalism, where the inverted pyramid is used. The 35-word maximum lead must answer the 5 W and the How, essentially delivering the story in a capsule. Details are then added as the story is fleshed out, and different viewpoints are incorporated. Honestly, outside of my freshman writing classes, the exercises in writing leads were among the most profitable writing experiences I have ever had.

So why don’t we BLUF more often?

– In many cases, people are afraid of being considered rude if they broach a subject without a preliminary introduction. This is especially true in written communication, where the absence of visual and auditory clues that would soften the impact of a naked sentence, makes writers afraid that their curtness would be mistaken for rudeness and disregard.

– The bottom line is something that is best left unexpressed, meaning that people are uncomfortable with the content of the communication. It could be bad news, or failure in a  project and the writer or speaker feels that hiding the point among reams of preliminary drivel  will make it less unpleasant, or will shift responsibility from them to someone else, or simply will avoid “killing the messenger” behaviors.

– Self aggrandizement opportunities are missed when the point is tersely expressed. There is no appreciation for the speaker’s eloquence, and the writer has no chance to set himself up as the author of success if the recipient of a message is overwhelmed or moved to action by the initial BLUF communication.

And finally, sometimes there isn’t a main point.

Hopefully, that’s not the case with this post whose point, in case you missed it, is that you should state your point first, and then proceed to elaborate.

Yes, your honor. I’ll try to BLUF from now on, to the best of my ability. Just not always, pleeeeeease?

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