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Why do we write at work?

August 5, 2011

At work we are awash with written material – reports accumulate, letters pile up, and emails swell our inboxes. The picture is that of a complex mass of information, circulating throughout the organisation, constantly replenished.  But it is often the case that even the most complex of things can be reduced to relatively simple ideas. So what is the purpose of all this writing? A bit of an open question, but it does have a simple answer that we can test in all business circumstances. The purpose is to help someone make a decision.

Information

The vast amount of written and spoken information passing through every organisation is to help someone, somewhere, at some point, make a decision about something; ideally, to make an ‘informed’ decision.  Once we grasp this, all comments about the primacy of the reader, the language and expressions we use, the data and facts we select, are part of a coherent message about the role of ‘information’.

Opinion or fact?

Yet so much information is really opinion. If I write a document it might be to record something, an incident, an accident, the minutes of a meeting. I filter the facts and value accuracy. Or, I might want to inform, present information that I believe is useful to the reader. I value relevance. I might be tasked with coming up with a solution to a dilemma or a challenge, so now my problem-solving abilities are valued. And very often, I have to persuade someone to accept something, or do something.

Is all writing the same?

In business we inform, record, solve and persuade. Does this differ from other writing? Are business circumstances so different that our writing at work is unique? What about creative writing, academic writing, scientific writing, technical writing? Are these part of the business picture? In some cases they are. This takes us back to the central question – the purpose of writing. It is the purpose that separates one approach from another.

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