Qualifying an Information Source

When someone sees a piece of information, the first decision that they make is “Should I look at this further, or move onto something else.” This is the qualification phase.

This applies to the subject line of an e-mail, the title of a poster, the headline of a newspaper article, etc.

In this qualification phase, we ask such questions as:

  • Does this affect me?
  • How important is this?
  • Can it wait until later?
  • Would this be of interest to someone else I know?

This phase is critical to how we control information overload. When you browse through a newspaper or magazine, if you were to read every single article and advert, you would simply not be able to cope with a daily newspaper.

When producing an Information source, you should not get arrogant and assume that everyone should read it. Instead, try to make it as simple as possible for the people who are not likely to need it to come to that conclusion. In other words, it’s often just as important to help people disqualify a piece of information as it is to get the right people’s attention.

You need to help them make that decision as quickly as possible. This is why you should never use “Important” or “Urgent” as single-word e-mail subject lines, or as headlines on posters and notices, because it doesn’t help them do this.

When you use terms such as these, people simply start ignoring you – like The Boy Who Cried “Wolf”. Just because something is Important or Urgent in your opinion, doesn’t make it so to other people.

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