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Friday, October 16, 2015

Writing Is a Powerful Tool. Treat It as One.

            There were these six guys, submarine diesel mechanics in the U.S. Navy. Their early careers had not involved writing, and that was fine with them, because they weren’t very good at it. One of them misspelled the same word six different ways in the same document. 
      Now they needed to write. Fighting vessels were periodically refitted at their naval shipyard, and the mechanics had to write reports on their examination of the engines. I was a writing coach working with them.
       The reports had to be clear, accurate and complete. People’s lives depended on those engines.
       The Navy mechanics’ problem differed only in degree from that of many fully functioning, intelligent, articulate adults, including project managers and team members. Many people don’t like to write. Many simply avoid writing. Why?
       There are various reasons. Sometimes it is the narrow inflexibility of writing as compared to personal conversation. Sometimes it is the one-way nature of the form, making true exchange clumsy and inadequate.

        People also point out that it can take a very long time to put something in writing. And there is the grinding nature of it all – so much more laborious than just straight-out saying it.
       And the pain. There can be a lot of discomfort in searching for ways to describe and explain in writing just what you mean.
       What can be most unsettling of all is the prospect of putting yourself out there in the open for the judgment and potential scorn your written thoughts might get.

 All true.
        But there are counterweights with plenty of heft, reasons to take this skill set seriously and put a priority on learning to do it well.
        No one who aspires to true professionalism can avoid the gateway skill of proficiency in writing. Top-drawer people must be capable of expressing themselves in well considered documents.
        The better you are at it, the broader are your horizons of possibility.
        You see, verbal communication – however informative or even compelling – evaporates one word at a time as it is spoken. Part One of your pitch must be consciously stored in the mind of your listener, to be fitted with Part Two as you lay it out.
        When you get into Part Three, I challenge anyone – even a spellbound convert – to possess a coherent version of what you’re talking about.
        No question: Creating conviction often is best done verbally. If its success is to survive the moment, though, there must be a more durable takeaway. Notes can work, to a point. A thoughtfully constructed document is far better. It can be reviewed and studied. It lasts. It comes back, unchanged, to fuel meaningful improvement. 
        He or she who produces the report controls history. Done well, it earns you power.
        The threshold demand on anything you write is that the target population reads it. That’s why you did it. They'll read it if its appearance and first few words persuade them to.
        Then, as your words are read, they must produce understanding.
        Finally, your purpose is completely met if you have convinced your readers to actually do what you set out to get them to do.

While it’s quite difficult to be that convincing, it’s extremely easy to accomplish the opposite – turning people off.
       A recent study has reminded us once again of what we’ve known all along: Sloppy handling of the language is a quick way to fail. You turn people off with bad spelling, grammar, punctuation, tone, word choice, etc.
       And anything that looks long, especially in email or other memo-type documents, kills your effect. Overwrite and underwrite will have the same effect. One suffocates your message in verbiage. The other leaves your readers mystified, possibly insulted and long gone before the end.
        Larger issues also can get in the way. Disorganization will do that. Many draft efforts are passed off as the final version. The writer quit too soon. Hey, invest a little patience and reflect a little on your purpose and logic. Then revise, maybe substantially.
        When you do that, you haven’t wasted a lot of time, and you’ve made an immense leap in clarity and effect.
        Using the wrong format can run your readers down the wrong alley, to confusion and negative outcome. Meeting minutes are not action plans, and reports are not sales pitches. You might be writing a complaint, a response, an analysis, an announcement or an estimate. Each has its own purpose and design. You blow it with a mismatch.
        Anyone intelligent enough to hold down a fulltime job can develop competency in writing. Much of the writing avoidance we see results from a baseless feeling that this skill is special, unlike any other familiar workplace activity. It’s not.

If you can tie your shoes, you can write. When we were three or four years old, the agonizing effort of tying our shoes was a mighty challenge. Nowadays, if you don’t want to work hard enough to tie your shoes, you can buy shoes equipped with Velcro.
When we learned to write, it was a challenge. Now, when we adults focus our attention on writing well, it is never is particularly quick or easy. There is no Velcro in business writing.
With a little discipline, you can do fine without that kind of help. The payoff is worth it.

See Also:

Email: Blessing & Curse
http://jimmillikenproject.blogspot.com/2012/04/email-blessing-and-curse.html
 

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