From Martin Krieger: BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front)
"I wrote this for our students. Perhaps it will be more widely useful. MK
In conversations with my colleagues, I realized that many of our students do not realize that most of their professional writing is for a busy audience: bosses, clients, community members, other scholars, etc. They have lots to read and do. Or, as a lawyer friend told me: Don't assume the judge will read past the first page of the brief.
So: BLUF: Bottom Line Up Front! Professor Juliet Musso calls this pyramidal writing. We have written articles about this sort of writing, but the essence is:
In your first paragraph, give away your main point. Don't promise, don't motivate (yet), don't tell me what you are going to do. Just tell me what you are sure you want me to know or do.
Often, you discover this main point while drafting your memo or essay or article. Then put it UP FRONT. I discover the crucial sentence or paragraph in the Conclusion or somewhere about 2/3 into the piece. BLUF!
This means you have to draft and redraft. It also helps to Proofread and Spellcheck.
Finally, you have permission to ENUMERATE, SUBHEAD, and to USE TOPIC SENTENCES. If you have several main points, number them. If you have several divisions of your piece, use subheads. And each section or division should begin with its main point: BLUF! People should be able to read your piece in outline.
By the way, this is also good advice for talks and and informative speeches. Tell me your findings in the first five minutes. I want to know then, not in the last 1/3 of the talk. No promises, no teasers. Give it all away.
None of this applies necessarily to love letters, novels, or New Yorker essays. MK
PS Note that my Subject Line gave away the whole email. If I did not have a Subject Line, I would have put that in the first sentence.
I was pleasantly surprised by the positive response to my memo on BLUF. Some further thoughts inspired by your comments:
1. You need to draft, redraft, and polish.
2. Show your instructor your BEST work. If you receive a marked-up paper, and want to redo it, redo it based on those indications, plus the perspective you have on your work (now, it probably looks to your that you could do better--you can see the flaws more clearly). Then show it to your instructor. If you do not under4stand the advice, you might ask for clarification--but usually, the problems are apparent in hindsight. You really don't want an instructor to see your weak paper more than once.
3. Be your own critic.You want to be autonomous. Hence, you need to learn to reread your work and improve it then and there. You will benefit from a friend's reading as well.
4. Be resourceful. If you have a question or have missed a class, ask a classmate, check the textbook, use the web. Use the "Help" in the computer application; search for tutorials; find the experts in Leavey.
5. Ask questions. In tension with #4, do ask questions of your instructor (or others). There are no dumb questions. But it will make a difference if you ask those questions after you have been resourceful.
6. No excuses. The cows do not want to hear excuses for why they were not milked today. If you do not show up, or show up late, the natural and necessary inference is that this engagement matters to you less than other engagements. Your instructor or boss will notice. The excuses rarely help your case.
7. Don't blame the boss or the teacher or your parents. You really don't want to say, "you told me so." You want to take charge, and say, "I'll fix it." Again, you want to be autonomous.
In the end you want others to think of you as responsible, delivering your personal best, resourceful, thoughtful, and respectful. Someday you will need a favor from others, and you want them to owe you, not you owe them.