Bad writing costs your organisation a lot of money, too.
A few years ago Josh Bernoff did some research into the “Sad State of Business Writing”. He surveyed business people who write at work and got over 500 responses. Amongst his conclusions were these gems:
- Bad writing was costing the American economy about $400 billion a year (that’s 2 per cent of GDP)
- 81% of respondents said that poorly written material wasted a lot of their time
- Only 38% agreed that their writing teachers at school/college prepared them well for business writing.
The survey was done in 2016 in America but I’m sure you recognise this wherever you are, and whatever sector you work in. I am sure you receive emails that ramble and don’t get to the point. And people send you reports that should have been edited for length and be clearer about what action management (you?) should take. Then there are all the websites and marketing materials filled with jargon.
How much of your working week is spent trying to make sense of badly written documents? Ten per cent? Twenty? If everyone in your organisation could be ten per cent more productive that would make a huge difference, wouldn’t it.
So, what should you do? First, as Bernoff said:
“treat the reader’s time as more valuable than your own.”
- When you have written something, treat it as the first draft. Take some time to review it from the reader’s perspective and edit it accordingly.
- Make sure that the title of the document/subject line of the message and the first couple of sentences nail your message. This is because people’s attention spans are short. They skim documents rather than read them deeply. Don’t bother with a flowery or obsequious introduction because the reader may not go beyond it.
- Write what you mean. Cut out the jargon and management-speak. Using plain language and shorter sentences will be easier for the reader to consume.
After all this, you may be thinking that you’re a good writer even if you see problems in what other people read. Well, first: do you have any evidence that you are a good writer? Perhaps you should ask for some feedback.
Second, if you really are a good writer, what can you do in your organisation to improve the standard of writing by your colleagues? Because if you can improve the overall standard of writing it will give your organisation a serious boost of productivity.