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Why is Writing Quality a Problem?

September 10, 2010

If senior members of your organisation are concerned about the quality of writing in reports, proposals and letters to customers, why is that?  Reasons may include:

  • Those senior members are old-fashioned and are setting unrealistic standards
  • Recruitment policy does not recognise the importance of writing skills
  • Internal processes do not help writers to improve their skills

and dozens of others.

So how can you recognise which reasons apply in your organisation and then do something about it?  We consider that it is useful to divide the causes into three groups:

  • Company (processes, recruitment and culture)
  • Writers (knowledge of English, reader awareness, perspective)
  • Managers (reviewing and mentoring skills, time management)

and to analyse them so that the root causes are addressed rather than the symptoms.  A typical response to poor quality writing is that senior people  complain that junior people have not been properly educated.  The answer is often to send them on a one-day report writing course.  That may help but it will probably not have a lasting effect unless there is a culture that supports improvements from the bottom up.

Here are two little stories:

1. A group of support staff in a multi-national company attend a letter writing course.  By the end of the day, they have agreed with the tutor that the templates they are required to use are poorly written and out of date.  Many of  the problems they encounter are aggravated by the templates and a blank screen would be easier to deal with.  All the delegates agree, however, that there is no point in raising this issue with their line managers because the templates will not get changed as a result of anything they say.

This course did not address the problem and was a waste of time and money.

2. A group of middle managers who work together as a team and are in control of the way they conduct their own business attend a report writing course.  By coffee time, they have agreed with the tutor that the templates they are required to use are poorly written and out of date.

They decide to work with the tutor to agree outlines for new templates, and then divide into groups to draft them in a couple of hours.  By the end of the day they have  almost agreed a new approach to report writing with new templates and a complete understanding of how to use them.

This course was pitched right and was the catalyst for a real improvement in working practices.

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