Have you got a mountain of paperwork on your desk, documents to review and process? Or are you contributing to someone else's mountain?
What would you rather do first: read a well written report or a badly written one; respond to a brief and clear email or a long, wordy one?
Can you remember the last time you read a well-written document and how you responded to it?
I was talking to some people in my industry last night about the challenges of finding someone who can write well enough to hire. They are finding people with other relevant skills, but they simply cannot write for business.
Their text messages are Gr8 BTW.
Here's the problem: we are taught to write at school or university, where we write essays based on word count. Remember those late nights burning the midnight oil trying to find another 75 words to nudge your essay up to the 2000 word mark?
Writing for business is fundamentally different.
We're not teachers who are paid to read something from beginning to end and then mark it up.
I don't know of a CEO or CFO who feels obliged to read a poorly written report from beginning to end, unless it's a late board paper and then it is read with a storm cloud over their heads, which in turn extends across the rest of the office.
We only have to look at our own behaviour when it comes to reading an email, news article or report to know that no one feels obliged to read anything from beginning to end.
Look at the message delivery efforts of our politicians, their message delivery window is tiny. They have to speak in soundbites to ensure their message is delivered effectively and quickly to targeted audiences.
I have been spending a lot of time delivering business writing workshops, working with technical experts to help them get really clear on what it is they are trying to communicate and then putting it into concise and clear business documents.
The reason I was asked to do these workshops is because my clients were frustrated by the quality of the writing in their teams. Documents were failing to achieve their objectives ie. business cases could not be approved, board papers were long and were impacting good governance, emails were not generating the correct actions or outcomes.
So to help tackle some of these challenges I thought I would share with you some of the problems I found and give a few tips on how to solve them:
- The main point was unclear and lost somewhere in the middle of the document
- Jargon was the norm rather than the last resort
- People felt if they wrote more it would justify the scale of the request
- There was no structure the documents
- Create a document plan before you start writing
- Make your point up front and don't be afraid to repeat it
- Tell a story by providing examples
- Be ruthless with jargon
- Keep it brief
So I ask you again, think of a time when you read a well-written document, think about how you responded to it and why.
Then look at what you are writing and ask yourself if you are mirroring that; has your point been made up front, have you mapped out your idea before writing and; if you were a six year old, would you understand it?
Great writing always gets results.