Write To The Bottom Line

Posted: by Dr Anneli Knight

Whether you’re aware of it or not, the writing in your business has a direct impact on your bottom line.

Late last year I had a meeting in Melbourne with two human resources managers at a global accounting firm. As I was explaining the Eloquence writing programs, I noticed one of the managers had started thinking about something else and stopped listening to me. She started speaking over me, addressing her colleague. I was disconcerted – until I heard what she had to say.

“Imagine how much time our partners could save if they didn’t need to update, edit and send back work to improve the writing.” Though she didn’t specify the average hourly billable rate of the firm’s partners, her mind was ticking over at the measurable financial benefits these time-savings would bring. She’d gone straight to the heart of the issue: the way people write in the business has a direct impact on the bottom line.

Weak writing sucks time from readers

You know what it’s like from a reader’s perspective. Weak writing steals time and demands attention.

We notice a sentence if we need to re-read it three or four times before we can understand it. Sometimes we might give up in exasperation along the way. We notice if we feel confused (or infuriated) because we can’t work out why something has been written in the first place. It slows us down if we need to write back to check if we’ve understood correctly or to ask for missing details, or what it is we’re expected to do now.

Even more problematic is the weak writing that we don’t notice, but simply misinterpret as we skip off along a wayward timewasting path.

And we all know wasted time means wasted money. A review of 3000 business emails by consultancy PowerSuasion put a dollar figure on it, estimating bad writing costs US$12,600 per employee per year.

Strong writing energises readers

Clear and concise communication supported by carefully chosen relevant detail saves people time, effort and money.

This has long been recognised at the most senior levels of business and government. Former US Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige was a strong supporter of writing improvement programs at senior levels of government, saying: “When people write letters and reports that are clear enough and simple enough and accurate enough and short enough – the time it saves the reader is immense. And that is productivity.”

As readers, we often don’t even notice strong writing. What we notice instead is the reaction we have to the writing. Strong writing energises a reader: we finish reading and we know what we need to do and by when, or we feel inspired to take action, or we feel confident the writer has everything under control.

None of this happens by accident. It is the result of skillful planning and execution by writers who have a clear purpose, who know their audience and how to grab their attention, and who’ve thought about what they want their reader to do or think or feel when they finish reading.

The best part

Most of us are never taught the foundations of strong writing at school or university, if anything the system instils bad habits. In essays and exams we show our knowledge by including as many details as possible in the hope that more ticks means higher marks.

In business, however, if we don’t have the confidence to discard irrelevant detail, we’re likely to bury our key message or lose our reader.

The best part of all of this is that it’s not difficult to move from weak to strong writing. As a starting point, it’s important to let people in your business know that strong writing skills are recognised and valued. From there people will develop strong writing in business by modelling managers, through detailed and specific feedback, and through formal training. Being aware of it is the first step. The time and money benefits to your business grow from there.

_Dr Anneli Knight is Eloquence Consulting’s founder and head facilitator: www.eloquence.com.au._

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