As communicators, we take great pains to support our organization’s brand through our writing.
Instinctively, we know that muddy language, spelling mistakes and insensitivity to readers can be just as damaging to our image as unauthorized logo tweaks, smiley faces or other breaches of corporate identity standards.
Yet, we often stand by quietly when we see the account executive’s slides confuse “it’s” and “its,” the engineer’s project plan that only a rocket scientist could follow or the vice-president’s 1,000 words to tell employees that this quarter’s results are encouraging.
Everyone has the tools for writing
Inwardly we seethe. Unfortunately, we know we are powerless to control all the communication details, now that almost everyone is equipped with that mighty communication tool—a computer.
We simply don’t have the resources to comb through every email, post, presentation or proposal to ferret out the errors that can undermine our reputation.
Not everyone has the skill to use them well
Nor should we. Although most of us accept approvals as a necessarily evil of corporate communication, we know that the vast flow of informal communication would slow to a trickle if we had to approve, and fix, everything to meet our professional standards.
We roll our eyes when we come across the common mistake of confusing “you’re” and “your.” We grow impatient when we are forced to trudge through unbearably complex or prosaic prose.
Most are smart
Yet, we have to admit that most of these would-be writers are intelligent. We have to remember that they simply never really learned, or don’t remember, all those boring grammar rules from high school. They also haven’t had our training, mentoring or experience in communication.
I have no clue about calculus, the periodic table of elements and many other basics I was supposed to learn in school. So why do I expect other people to include writing skills in their talent reservoir?
In today’s knowledge economy, we are all experts in our own fields. Ours is communication. Though some people in other fields have an intuitive grasp of writing, many don’t. It’s not their fault.
Can we help more?
Instead of feeling superior, we need to be helpful, much like the voice on the help desk who answers my questions, which must often seem incredibly stupid to the trained expert.
Just as we get annoyed with the help person who rattles off a stream of technical jargon, we have to stop using technical grammar terms. We have to practice what we preach by using plain language. No more talk about subordinate clauses, parallel constructions or compound adjectives, please, unless we are talking to each other.
Another route many organizations try is writing training. But what often happens is that the people who take these courses revert back to their old ways almost immediately. It does not stick.
Meaningful training measurement
They will proudly point to the certificate on their wall, as proof they can write well. The training people will cheerily count how many people who have been trained. But no one really knows if it’s doing any good.
This leads me to think we need to take a broad-based approach to facilitating clear, concise and compelling writing. We need to focus on what’s most important to our organization, ensure the learning priorities are taught and measure the results.
This kind of internal training should not be considered a frill or soft skill taught only when corporate coffers are swollen. It should be just as basic as the training people routinely receive on new software, so they can competently perform their jobs and not drive crazy the help desk people, or the communication department.
What’s your experience?
Maybe my perspective is limited by the clients I work for. Or maybe I’m onto a challenge that many others in communication faces.
So, I’d like to hear from you communication professionals.
Do you agree? Why?
Do you disagree? Why?
Are your organizations or clients taking actions that are leading to clear, concise and compelling writing that supports your brand?
I’d love to hear.