By the end of the first paragraph of a business document, the reader should know not only what problem, issue or opportunity you’re writing about, but also the proposed solution or action steps you will be advocating. Deborah Dumaine, in her excellent business writing book, Write to the Top,” calls this BLOT—bottom line on top.
There are two reasons for BLOT:
1. Today’s business documents are scanned, not read. Estimates of the average time recruiters spend on a resume, for example, vary from 6 seconds to 30—nobody says it’s more than that. For a major business report, you might have as much as 10 minutes, but you shouldn’t count on it.
If you put your conclusions at the end of the document, chances are your reader will never get to them.
2. When you put the BLOT in the first paragraph, you give the reader a filter for reading the rest of the document. In the absence of a BLOT, I have sometimes read through a document, reaching my own conclusions about the content—then discovered to my amazement that the authors had reached different conclusions from the same content. At that point, I felt a need to re-read to see how their conclusions varied so dramatically from mine—but who has time for that? I simply ruled their conclusions invalid.
It is amazingly difficult for people to put BLOT into practice. I think we are all still haunted by our third grade book report format: “And if you want to know how it ends, you have to read the book.”
In third grade, that might have been a rousing challenge to say, “Yes, I’ll read the book!” In the business world, telling the audience “You need to read all the way to the end” is likely to draw the response, “Says who?”