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The Power is in the Middle

November 11, 2010

Let’s turn our attention to the middle.  Senior people send recruits and juniors on writing courses, and sometimes the guys in the middle get tacked onto the course designed for the juniors.  I believe that they deserve a purpose-built training programme because their responsibilities for the quality of writing in the organisation are different from those of the juniors.  In many cases training them to review would add far more value than training juniors to write.  This belief has been reinforced by the results of our survey.

Reviewing other people’s writing is difficult for two reasons: first, it challenges your confidence in the quality of your own writing and second, it requires the delicate skill of correcting while motivating.  A day dedicated to this with a group of six to ten middle managers is very likely to be a far better use of training budget than putting their teams on a report writing course.  Here are a few examples of  how they, and the organisation, can benefit.


They need to understand the importance of objective writing standards, what they are and how to apply them.  Then they will no longer rely so completely on their (sometimes uncertain) personal judgement about the right way to get a point across in writing.  They will also find it easier to be consistent between documents and between writers.

The elements of the job

They will find it enormously useful to break the job down into clearly defined sections.  Reviewing the content, for example, is completely separate from proofreading, and offering feedback on both can be demoralising for the recipient.

The practice of giving feedback

They need ideas for the process of reviewing.  Microsoft Word’s ‘track changes’ function has its uses, but they do not include, in my humble opinion, giving feedback to someone who reports to you.  There is only one possible response to a document plastered with tracked comments, and it is ‘accept all’.  This brings no learning or improvement, only a frustrated sigh.

A light touch

They must learn to apply a light touch when reviewing the work of their juniors.  For sure, grammatical errors need to be corrected and unreadable sentences need to be sorted out but variations in word order and random preferences should stay.  Middle managers who have never learned the difference will inadvertenly upset people by making unnecessary corrections while a well-placed suggestion will motivate them.

Seriously, consider training your middle managers to review.  It will not raise writing standards overnight, but it could start a gradual change in the personal pride people take in their writing.

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