Posted January 28, 2020
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
So said famed author and management consultant Peter Drucker. To this statement, we might add a corollary: what you measure, you improve. Tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) related to writing can help individual writers and organizations as a whole improve the overall quality of their written materials. Monitoring and measuring KPIs can yield valuable insight into performance, productivity, and improvement over time – and ultimately yield higher quality, more effective documents.
But just what are the metrics that can or should be tracked when it comes to writing?
The easiest and most straightforward metric to track is volume. Tracking daily page or word count can help determine productivity. Organizations might also track the number of written documents each writer produces in a given period.
That said, many experts caution against tracking word count or other volume metrics. Deeming higher word counts as "better" incentivizes over-writing when most business documents would benefit from being shorter. For example, research published in The Technical Communication Journal mentions a computer company that saved $19,000 in production costs by reducing the length of a user manual. If the writers had focused on word count or page count as a measure of productivity, they would have missed that opportunity.
Monitoring quality-based KPIs can be invaluable in helping writers improve over time, but quality metrics can be tricky: quality is notoriously subjective and difficult to grade. Organizations might note the number of grammatical or factual errors in the document. Or, some writing apps and services will "grade" readability. A business might also monitor feedback (internal or external) to the document. Or consider bringing in a professional writer or trainer to evaluate writing samples. Be wary of placing too much emphasis on the "quality" of any single document, however. Quality by almost any measure can vary tremendously from one document to the next; look instead for patterns and trends over time.
Most business and technical documents have some kind of goal, and ideally the writer or organization should be able to track a KPI that aligns with that objective. For example, if the document is part of a sales or marketing initiative, how much new business or revenue did the document generate? For web content and other written materials published online, for instance, track "click-through rates" (how often readers clicked for more information or to fill out a form), the number of "likes" or "shares" on social media, or "time spent on page" to see if the material was engaging enough to keep readers reading. Another easy thing to track is reader feedback: did readers have questions about the material or did the material, for instance, reduce the number of questions?
Ultimately, tracking some kind of writing metric over time will help strengthen writing quality.
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 30 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. Links: JSTOR