Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Writing well may be for school but writing effectively is vital for life.

Whether you work in English or not, it’s vital you are able to write well.

In today’s episode, Lindsay interviews Todd Rogers from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

He gives us evidence-based tips on how to write well not for school but for life.

These tips are especially useful in today’s modern, busy world.

Who is Todd Rogers?

Todd is a professor of Public Policy at Harvard University in the Kennedy School of Government.

He is the co-author of “Writing for Busy Readers” and has trained thousands of leaders across hundreds of organizations on the science of writing.

Todd has received his PhD jointly from Harvard’s Department of Psychology and the Harvard School of Business.

Lindsay asks Todd how he went about combining his learning under Psychology and Business.

Todd shares that he was fascinated with how you can use the science of behavior change across a lot of studies, most especially business.

He finds it interesting to help people be more effective make better choices.

Lindsay shared a quote that she found interesting from her recent email exchange with Todd.

“Writing well is for school but writing effectively is for life.”

Todd meant by this quote that when we are taught how to write well, we learn to write so that the reader can clearly understand our thoughts.

But it turns out nobody reads like that.

To write effectively, it is important to break that barrier between the reader and their daily lives.

Three core tips for effective writing

Today we share tips from Todd to help you be more effective in your writing.

There are things you can easily incorporate in your daily life, especially in your work life.

#1: Design for easy navigation

Be aware that your readers are likely skimming and may be jumping from one place to another.

Headings can be helpful when writing to ensure you help the reader find what they are looking for.

Instead of thinking of writing as a series of words, it is a visual thing that people are jumping around on.

You need to make it easier for them to read by creating a structure that helps them navigate to the key information that stands out.

In the military, they follow the method: BLUPF – Bottom Line Upfront.

This is a style where you don’t bury the point of your writing.

You can use formatting such as underlining or putting in bold text important information in your writing.

#2: Less is more

In the past, people would argue that writing depends on style or preference.

However, with hundreds of tests done to see if this is true, they found that if you add more words, people read less.

If you add more requests, it’s unlikely people will respond to your request.

If you have a lot of ideas in your writing, it may be that none of it will resonate with the reader.

So there is a constant trade-off where the more you add, the less people will read.

You must choose just one thought to get across.

How to incorporate this advice in emails

In an email, Todd shares that his practice is to keep emails to not more than four lines.

It’s convenient for the reader to read what your point is this way.

Additionally, you can include an attachment with the other details that may be seen as noise in the body of the email.

This is a much more effective way to make sure the email recipient will retain what you sent.

#3: Make responding easy

The main goal of writing is to make things easier for the reader.

If they need to respond, you have to structure it in a way that they can understand how to respond.

Todd shares an example related to email writing.

If you’re setting a meeting time with someone, don’t just ask when is convenient for them.

Instead, you can include in your email schedule options to make it easier for both of you.

This will decrease the back-and-forth communication that is unnecessary.

As an added bonus, this is also very helpful for working around different time zones.

Your readers will appreciate this quick and hassle-free directive of how to respond in the way you want.

Meeting goals through effective writing

Today’s tips will make us more effective in achieving our goals.

Most of us are writing to start an action or because we need a response.

Structuring your writing to be more efficient and effective in getting things done will definitely help you accomplish what you need to be done.

Your readers will understand what you need and respond quickly.


In this fast-paced world, it’s vital to make our writing effective.

We should always write with the goal of making it easier for the reader.

Not only is this a service to them, but it will also increase the likelihood we receive a quick response.

For more tips, check out the book “Writing for Busy Readers” by Todd Rogers and Jessica Lasky-Fink.

This is based on the findings of hundreds of experiments on how to write for a busy reader in our modern world.

You can check out the website for more details.

Todd’s Bio:

Todd Rogers is Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  He is coauthor of Writing for Busy Readers.  He is faculty director of the Behavioral Insights Group, faculty chair of the executive education program Behavioral Insights and Public Policy, Senior Scientist at ideas42, and Academic Advisor at the Behavioral Insights Team. 

Todd is co-founder and board member of Analyst Institute, which increases civic engagement through improved voter communications. He is also co-founder, equity holder, and Chief Scientist (unpaid) of EveryDay Labs, which partners with school districts to reduce student absenteeism by communicating with families.  He has trained thousands of leaders across hundreds of organizations on the science of writing for busy readers. 

Todd received his Ph.D. jointly from Harvard’s department of Psychology and the Harvard Business School. Check out Todd’s book at

What is a tip from Todd that you would want to implement right away?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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