Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

You should feel pain when unclear

Email blasts are the best training for being clear.

At my last company I had about 2 million customers.

When writing an email to everyone, if I wasn’t perfectly clear, I’d get 20,000 confused replies, which would take my staff all week to reply to, costing me at least $5000 plus lost morale.

Even if I was very clear but took more than a few sentences to explain something, I’d get thousands of replies from people who never read past the first few sentences.

Writing that email to customers — carefully eliminating every unnecessary word, and reshaping every sentence to make sure it could not be misunderstood — would take me all day.

One unclear sentence? Immediate $5000 penalty. Ouch.

Unfortunately, people writing websites don’t get this kind of feedback.

Instead, if they’re not clear, they just get silence. Lots of hits but no action.

I see new websites trying to look impressive, filled with hundreds of puffy unnecessary sentences.

I feel bad that the people behind those sites haven’t felt the pain of trying to email that text to thousands of people, to directly see how misunderstood or ignored it is.