The cleverness of your work can be diluted, and even lost, if it’s not matched with top-quality communication.
Take reports and other documents. I’ve read, reviewed and edited enough of them to have seen this time and again.
Poor communication has an impact on your personal brand and your company’s brand.
And it costs money, too.
Poor communication costs you money in wasted time
Here’s some sobering stats:
In its 2008 Global Productivity Report, Proudfoot Consulting found that:
Poor communication was identified as the number three driver of unproductive workforce time in 2007. (page 67)
Poor communication was the reason for 17.2% of unproductive workforce time in 2007. Put another way, workers spend over 2.5 hours each workweek (or three weeks each work-year) on unproductive activities because of poor communication. (page 9)
This doesn’t surprise me. In fact, I’m surprised it’s not a higher figure.
Take the average document in the average company and you’ll see the standard of writing that the average worker deals with and produces every day.
I’m not talking about the material that’s released for public consumption — that’s generally well written. I’m talking about the material that’s used internally and that flows between businesses. Look, it’s there on your desk!
It’s all about knowing your audience
The problem with preparing a business or technical document is that it’s easy to lose sight of who you’re writing it for.
The writing style, level of detail and level of technical information is governed by the expected audience.
Ensure you know who they are and write for them.
But also write for the people who may one day pick up your document and depend on it to make a decision or to take an action.
You need to tell them the story so they’re able to fully comprehend it … without the benefit of having been involved in the process or having you to answer questions.
I’ve seen a lot of documents written with assumptions. They don’t clearly state things, assuming the reader knows what’s inside the writer’s head.
Your content needs context to make sense, with bridges from one idea to the next.
You also need to use:
- logical structure so that information is revealed, like a story
- meaningful headings as signposts to your information and as a way of capturing the essence of the story for people who don’t want to read every word
- clear descriptions and explanations to make it easy for readers to understand you without the need to read your text over and over.
How you juggle it all together depends on the type of document you’re writing.
And it needs to be written in plain English. What’s the point of using words that most of your readers are unlikely to understand?
Fancy words and big words might make you look smart … or look like a wanker.
Either way, if the words aren’t understood, you’re not communicating very well. In fact, it defeats the purpose of your communication.
And if your readers aren’t happy, it may have a cost impact on your business. Especially if your readers paid you to produce the document.
So what impact do you want your documents to make?
Is the work you’re handing over to a customer going to have a positive or negative effect on your and your company’s reputation? Does it deliver what you promised?
If you spend a lot of time writing, make sure your effort isn’t wasted. I’ve seen too many formal business documents released (internally and externally) without being properly proofread, edited and reviewed.
In business, you can’t afford to sell yourself short. The quality of your writing has the potential to do that. It may also cause wasted time for others while they struggle to understand you.
And if you work for a company where documents are a major deliverable to customers, your brand depends on the quality of those documents. Stop writing crap!
Is the effort worth it? Absolutely.
The important thing is that your written communication is understood as intended.
Producing a report that’s misunderstood, or costs your company money to rework, or loses a deal … now that’s worthless effort.