Clarity Write This Way

By Peter Cronin | Thursday, September 29, 2016 | No Comments

As someone whose career has often been dependent upon an ability to produce clear and succinct writing, I become frustrated at the level of writing skills I encounter doing business every day. According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Journal, I am not alone.

Author Josh Bernoff describes bad business writing as “a hidden source of friction that is slowing your company down.” Bernoff points to his recent survey of 547 business people who spend an average of 25.5 hours a week reading work-related material. All agreed that shoddy writing costs time, energy, and productivity. In a recent study conducted by online benefits and compensation information company, PayScale, 44% of managers surveyed pointed to writing skills as the quality most lacking in new grads.

In addition to dilution of leadership and “fuzzy” thinking, Bernoff believes bad writing – riddled with industry jargon and over-the-top superlatives – can foster trust issues for many companies.

“When clarity and truth are core values for marketers, they can spend time trumpeting what works, rather than concealing what doesn’t,” Bernoff says.

Author Alan Siegel is another outspoken advocate of clear, straightforward writing. When his design firm was hired to redesign a leading bank’s customer forms, Siegel was appalled by the cluttered, unintelligible mess he encountered.

“Riddled with dense legalese, the contract screamed, ‘Don’t read this!’,” Siegel says. “The bank saw it as a ‘necessary evil’ and ‘just a bit of paperwork,’ but I saw something more.”

What Siegel saw was a “complexity” problem and a career opportunity. The shorter-and-simplified, “plain English” bank forms he created went on to become the industry standard, and Siegel, along with co-author Irene Etzkorn, went on to write a bestseller titled, simply enough, “Simple: Conquering The Crisis Of Complexity.”

We could all take a page from the playbooks of Bernoff, Siegel, and Etzkorn. Streamline, simplify, and bring clarity to your company’s written communications, and you just might discover the most important benefit of focused, well-crafted writing – people actually read it.

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