by Vivienne Begg, Structured Writing Facilitator
Writing is often time-consuming and costly
A key concern I’ve picked up from clients in recent months is the time it takes staff to prepare and finalise a written document. Participants in my writing workshops often complain about the length of the document review process, and the number of drafts required before their managers approve and circulate a document.
If it’s taking your employees a long time to write a document, that’s costing your organisation more money than it should. And if there are senior people involved in multiple reviews of the same document, that’s costing the organisation their time and salary as well.
So why is this happening?
In my experience, the reasons relate to two different stages of the writing process.
Planning – what’s your purpose and intended outcome?
First of all, there’s the planning stage. If someone’s going to write a document effectively and efficiently, they need to have a clear idea of its purpose and intended outcomes. And often, that’s not the case.
They may not be clear about this because they haven’t spent time identifying why they’re writing and what they want their readers to do as a result of reading the document. And, as they’re often constrained by a tight deadline, it’s all too tempting to put their fingers on the keyboard and start typing before they have a clear goal in mind.
Your responsibility as a manager
Or maybe it’s your fault. Often managers direct their staff to write particular documents: ‘I need a report on Project Starfish.’ The employee writes what they think is required and when they produce it, they’re told ‘That’s not really what I wanted.’ If that’s happened to you, it’s probably because you weren’t clear yourself about the purpose of the document and so didn’t communicate it. The result is wasted time and effort, and frustration on both sides.
If you want your staff member to write a document that is effective, you need to agree with them what the purpose of the document is, and what its intended outcome is, so that you have a common understanding of the goal of the document.
Lengthy review processes add little value
I’m also hearing, more and more frequently, about lengthy review processes for documents, and documents going through many drafts before they’re finalised and approved. When there are senior managers involved, this can be a very costly exercise. And writers get very frustrated when reviewers seem to focus on minor issues like a preference for one word over another, or the punctuation of bulleted lists.
It’s not all about you!
Reviewing a document - I’m sorry to disappoint you – is not all about you reading from your perspective and suggesting changes according to your personal preferences. If you are going to add value, you need to take the perspective of the intended audience for the document.
What to consider when you’re reviewing
Has the document targeted its readers appropriately, in terms of the content, the level of detail, the type of language used, and the overall focus of the document? Consider what the audience cares about, and how they’re likely to react to the document, and ensure the document responds to those concerns.
You will add more value and be more efficient if you take an objective approach to reviewing a document. Focus on how well it achieves its purpose and targets its readers, and provide feedback accordingly. Your team will benefit, and so will their documents.