This is an incredible — albeit sad — example of BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) in action. Right before the Titanic sank at around 1:00 a.m. on April 15, 1912, somebody sent the following telegram:
CQD CQD SOS SOS = FROM MGY (RMS TITANIC) = WE HAVE STRUCK ICEBERG = SINKING FAST = COME TO OUR ASSISTANCE = POSITION: LAT 41.46 N. = LON 50.14 W. MGY
BLUF is originally a military communications technique, in which the conclusion — the most vital information and actions — is placed right at the start as with the Inverted Pyramid form of journalism. This format is valued for two reasons:
- First, the readers can leave the story at any point and understand it, even if they do not have all the details
- Second, it conducts readers through the details of the story
This system also means that information less vital to the reader’s understanding comes later in the story, where it is easier to edit out for space or other reasons. This is called cutting from the bottom. According to the HBR article titled‚ How to Write Email with Military Precision:
Military professionals lead their emails with a short, staccato statement known as the BLUF. (Yes, being the military, there is an acronym for everything.) It declares the purpose of the email and action required. The BLUF should quickly answer the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. An effective BLUF distills the most important information for the reader. The BLUF helps readers quickly digest the announcement, decision, and when the new procedures go into effect. The reader doesn’t necessarily want to know all the background information that led to the decision. He or she likely wants to know “how does this email affect me?” and the BLUF should answer this question every time.
In the context of job applications
On average, each corporate job offer attracts approximately 250 applications. Recruiters take approximately 6 seconds to scan your application. This means, as an applicant, you have only this short time span to grab the recruiter’s attention before they wander off to the next candidate. By using this framework in your cover letter and /or email application, you’ll improve the recruiter’s experience with your application because the essentials are clearly shown at the start. The recruiter doesn’t necessarily need to know all the background, but it’s there if needed.
There are many methods to draw attention to the key parts of your application. You can highlight key keywords, phrases, or sentences with colour or a bold font, and so on. When your documents are BLUF formatted, the recipient doesn’t have to scan a long document to get the important items. Instead, they run into it right at the start. So, there’s no way they can miss the key aspects you wish to convey. This framework also forces you to think what your key message is and succinctly phrase it. This results in better focus.
Incidentally, BLUF isn’t the only such system. You can also use the BLIND framework, especially on email-based applications:
- BL = Bottom Line
- I = Impact on the organization
- N = Next steps to be taken
- D = Details
However, BLUF is simpler and probably just as effective in most cases.
Getting to BLUF
Here is how you can get to a solid BLUF:
Do your homework
This is the part where there are no shortcuts. You must understand the whole picture, from top to bottom, in order to do an effective job of beginning to synthesise it into a BLUF.
Make sure you are thorough with your inputs
This is an extension of the idea that there are no short cuts. Your analysis process must be thorough. You need to ensure that you are asking all of the questions. Make sure you are clear with the output of your analysis. In order even to begin to construct a BLUF, you need to understand all aspects of your analysis. You need to understand the critical success factors, the risks, the assumptions, and so on.
Understand your audience
It is most critical that you understand what is important to your audience. You need to hit the key pressure points head on. Understand exactly what you want to get out of this application. You need to have an objective with the BLUF. It needs to be simple and measurable. The BLUF needs to speak exactly to your objective. A BLUF forces you to think through the important things and to see things as your stakeholders see them.