Writing as problem-solving: rethinking the act (and art) of business, technical, and scientific writing


Posted In a recent article, “4 ways to train your team to become excellent writers,” we explained how guided writing exercises are incredibly valuable for improving writing skills.
One reason why: such exercises help workers understand that “writing skills are not wholly different from other critical business skills; business writing is problem-solving, and your professionals simply need to learn how to apply their problem-solving skills to the writing process.”
But what does that mean exactly? In fact, there are a couple of layers here.

On a high-level, each written document itself is solving a problem.

Many business, technical, and scientific professionals think of their writing task list as a necessary evil that distracts from their core job function. But problem solving is a writing tool that can bring about a specific, desirable result. This is true of almost any form of writing. Consider the ways problem solving and writing skills are connected:
Problem Solution
You need permission to undertake a new project A persuasive email, proposal, or presentation
Colleagues don’t appreciate the value of your work A report or analysis of your work
Stakeholders don’t understand certain key information A technical or white paper or educational materials
Insufficient sales A sales presentation or other marketing materials
Miscommunication A crystal-clear memo or communique
Once you start thinking about writing as a mechanism that can move readers toward a desired outcome, it’s just a matter of applying the problem-solving skills you use every day to use your writing to address genuine needs.

The act of writing is also the art of problem-solving.

Your problem-solving skills don’t stop there. Let’s say you’re writing a technical paper to educate key stakeholders. The problem is that they don’t understand the topic. Now you have another problem: how do you write the paper?
Once you understand the problem that the paper itself is solving, you can begin to apply your critical-thinking skills. Critical thinking requires asking questions, of course. Who are your intended readers and what do they know? How do they feel about the topic? Are they biased (against you, your organization, the topic)? What information should be included and from what sources? What’s the best way to package and present information? How will your readers read (skim, read the document in its entirety, or read-only sections)?
From there, as you begin crafting the paper, the process becomes less about inspiration and talent than realizing that writing is problem-solving on paper. You can use the same strategies for solving problems in the workplace when you write, too. We’ve also written how writing is like engineering a product; just as problem-solving underlies almost every step in that process, so too is it a crucial component of writing.
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 25 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.