Get to the Point!


—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

Get to the Point!

“If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time—a tremendous whack.”

— Sir Winston Churchill

Your reader has two main questions about any message:

  • What is this about?
  • Why should I care?

You should be able to answer those two questions in a single sentence. That’s why your main point can be the hardest sentence to write.

How can I write a clear main point?

Start by writing out answers to each of those questions.

  • What is this about? (Your subject)

    I’m writing about the parking arrangements for the two days when the lot is being resurfaced.

  • Why should I care? (Your purpose)

    All employees need to park in the neighboring church parking lot and walk in.

Then, summarize your two answers in a single sentence:

On June 3 and 4, the parking lot will be resurfaced, so all employees must park in the 1st Methodist lot and walk in.

Here’s a graphic to help you remember the two parts of your main point:

Sometimes, you need to write your whole message before you clearly grasp your subject and purpose. That’s okay. If you need to think on the page, do so. Work it out in long form, and afterward answer the questions and write your main point.

Then add your main point to whatever you have written.

Where should my main point go?

For most messages, put your main point near the front. That way, you answer the readers’ biggest questions quickly and provide a context for the rest of the message.

On June 3 and 4, the parking lot will be resurfaced, so all employees must park in the 1st Methodist lot and walk in.

Support your main point by answering the rest of the readers’ questions–the 5 W’s and H:

  • Who is affected?

    The parking area will be off limits to everyone during the resurfacing.

  • What must happen next?

    All employees must find alternative parking.

  • When will it take place?

    All day on June 3rd and 4th, the employee lot will be resurfaced.

  • Where will it happen?

    The 1st Methodist church next door has agreed to let us use their lot on those days.

  • How will it happen?

    Please access the church lot through the south entrance and take the sidewalk to reach our building.

  • Why is it occurring?

    The inconvenience of these two days will be repaid by having fresh blacktop without potholes and cracks.

Does my main point ever come later?

If you are breaking bad news, putting your main point up front would seem blunt and insensitive: “The board did not choose your proposal.”

Instead, use the BEBE formula, which stands for Buffer, Explanation, Bad news, Exit.

  • The Buffer is a neutral statement that connects to the reader.

    Thank you for submitting your proposal to the board.

  • The Explanation leads up to the bad news.

    We received more than a dozen proposals and considered each very carefully.

  • The Bad news clearly but gently states your main point.

    After much deliberation, the board chose a competing proposal for the project.

  • The Exit looks to the future, setting the terms for the relationship going forward.

    Thank you again for your proposal, and we look forward to any suggestions you have in the future.

If you are trying to persuade, you don’t want to start with your main point: “Buy my product!” The answer would probably be, “No.”

Instead, use the AIDA formula, which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.

  • Get readers’ Attention by focusing on what they want.

    Are you tired of hard chairs in restaurants and hard bleachers at sports venues?

  • Build Interest by appealing to readers’ needs.

    Sure, you could drag along a foam cushion, but they’re bulky and awkward.

  • Create Desire by introducing your idea.

  • Call the reader to Action by stating your main point.

    Dial the number on your screen, and get two pairs for the price of one!


You Try It!

Think about a message you need to send to someone. Then answer the questions:

  1. What is the message about? (Your topic)
  2. Why should the reader care? (Your purpose)
  3. How would you state your topic and purpose in a single sentence?
  4. Is this good news, bad news, or persuasion?
  5. Where would you place your main point—at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end?

Get More Support

Check out the Write for Business Guide, Courses, and eTips for more help with main points and supporting details.