Maybe you’ve read an SOP that didn’t quite make sense. Or perhaps it was a report that was a bit too dense. Or a manual that was so poorly written it made reading the dictionary sound like fun. Regardless of the document you’re skimming or the industry you work in, there’s no escaping the truth: Effective writing is essential in the workplace and bad writing, well, it sucks for everyone.
Now, we know what you’re thinking: “I’m not a writer, I’m an engineer/scientist/marketer so writing isn’t my job.” Wrong! Knowing how to write even the simplest correspondence can make or break your professional reputation. Any writing that you do for your company is, in turn, a direct reflection of your professionalism. We all make judgments about a company based on the documents it produces and, for most companies, the written document is their deliverable. Therefore, writing is a primary — not secondary — part of any professional’s job, no matter what your title is.
The importance of effective writing in the workplace means that companies should provide the tools employees need to write, plan, and revise accordingly — yet many don’t. While any given company will train employees to complete certain tasks, training them to write — something all professionals must do — is often not given as much consideration.
And that’s unfortunate, because poor writing affects the bottom line, wasting both time and resources in the process.
At Hurley Write, we believe that all professionals have the critical thinking skills and persuasive techniques necessary to create readable, useful documents; however, many simply don’t know how to apply these skills to the writing process. The truth is that employees with this knowledge make their company more productive and more profitable.
Here’s the bottom line: Effective writing saves time and money, can improve customer service, results in increased sales, and helps employees do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about why effective writing is so important in the workplace.
Effective Writing: It Really Does Make a Difference
Joseph Kimble, Chair of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Research & Writing Department, proves that effective writing truly does make a difference in his book, Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please. Kimble’s research focuses on organizations that have benefited from improved writing, and his book includes a variety of case studies of organizations that have saved time and money and improved business practices by making their copy easier to read. Some of his findings include the following eye-popping statistics:
2x as likely
The US Army rewrote a memo to 129 officers suggesting that they perform a certain task; those who received the more readable memo were twice as likely to act on the task on the day they received the memo.
In 1977, the FCC rewrote regulations in plain language, resulting in the organization being able to reassign five full-time staff members whose job was to answer questions about the regulations.
$375,000 saved annually
GE rewrote its software manuals, resulting in a decrease of 125 calls per representative from customers asking questions about the software. With its revised manual, GE estimates that it saves up to $375,000 a year for each business customer.
$400,000 saved annually
$37 million saved annually
FedEx saved $400,000 annually when it rewrote its operations manuals. The goal was to ensure that users spent 80 percent less time looking for information.The US Navy rewrote its business memos to officers and saved $27 to $37 million a year in officer time because they could read the revised memos in 17 to 27 percent less time.
Kimble’s book has many other examples demonstrating the advantages of effective writing, including how organizations improved their bottom line simply by reassessing and rewriting their customer-facing documents. And Kimble is far from the only resource when it comes to examining the impact of good writing and effective communications versus the costs of poor writing. Many studies and research projects have found that poor communication and inadequate writing are incredibly costly and thus, when corrected, provide incredible return on value.
So, what exactly is the kind of bad writing that can compromise benefits like these? Best-selling author Josh Bernoff, a former Senior VP at Forrester Research, says such writing may be “too long, poorly organized, unclear, filled with jargon, and imprecise.” Those problems force readers to slow down to work through what the author is trying to say. In other words, bad writing takes valuable time to decode. By contrast, effective writing:
- Saves potentially huge amounts of money;
- Saves hundreds or thousands of hours of time per organization;
- Facilitates action and positive, desired outcomes; and
- Improves productivity and streamlines operational efficiency.
In fact, writing well yields a bounty of benefits for both individual writers and the organizations that employ them.
25% more productive
25% more productive| McKinsey and Company estimates that improved communication and collaboration could raise worker productivity 20 to 25 percent by making them more efficient at dealing with email, collaborative tasks, and more.
81% affected | Josh Bernoff studied the cost impacts of bad business writing. He found that 81 percent of people who do a lot of reading for their work agree that poorly written material wastes much of their time.
173 hours saved annually
173 hours saved annually | One study of 4,000 employees found that almost half (46 percent) did not understand instructions provided by their manager, and employees estimated they wasted as much as 40 minutes a day trying to get clarification. That adds up to 173 hours per year per employee of time wasted.
Effective Writing is Required for Documents, the ”True Deliverables”
“No matter what position level, what industry, and what position focus, if you cannot communicate effectively — both verbally as well as in writing — you cannot be effective in your job.” – Wade Pierson, owner of Impact Talent Ventures.
Aristotle’s Persuasive Techniques
Aristotle knew a thing or two about the power of persuasion — something that most certainly comes in handy for effective business writing. He coined the three persuasive techniques used to persuade: ethos (image), logos (logic), and pathos (values). Documents, whether written well or poorly, reflect upon the writer’s image and can use Aristotle’s concepts of ethos, logos, and pathos to appeal to and persuade readers. The writing that an organization produces can influence how readers perceive that organization. Aristotle called this “ethos” (“persuasion through character, as to make a speaker worthy of credence). While ethos is certainly important in speaking, it’s just as, if not more important, in writing.
The documents that an organization creates can directly affect perception, which means that those documents become a way to improve a company’s most valuable asset: reputation. It’s well-known that people do business with companies they trust. It’s no surprise, then, that how a company treats its customers and employees and stands behind its products or services all influence its reputation. This brings us to one other factor that has a major effect on a corporation’s reputation: the quality of its writing.
An organization’s writing directly affects how it’s perceived, and therefore, writers should approach every document with the understanding that it’s persuasive. We often get pushback when we proffer this idea in a classroom: “No, we’re just providing information,” is a common refrain. But every document persuades the reader of something, whether it’s the professionalism of the company, the intelligence of the writer, or the writer’s ability to meet the reader’s needs — this is why all professionals need to know and understand persuasive techniques.
For instance, if you write a document that your reader struggles to get through because it contains irrelevant information, your reader is being persuaded — just not necessarily in the manner in which you hoped he would be. Perhaps he’s being persuaded that you’re not focused or that you don’t understand his needs. That’s what we mean when we talk about persuasion.
Using Persuasive Techniques Effectively
If you’ve ever read a document and judged the writer’s intelligence or professionalism based on the writing, you’re not alone. Why do we do that? Often, the document is all we have to judge how well or how poorly a company conducts its business. Regardless of the type of work your company does, its documents, whether marketing material, reports, or emails, are the “face” of the organization.
Here’s an example: There was a company promoting its services on LinkedIn for writing standard operating procedures (SOPs), yet the posting was riddled with grammatical errors. The issue with that, beyond the sheer laziness (or perhaps ignorance) of the writer, is that SOPs are incredibly important documents! In fact, they’re the backbone (or should be) for most companies, as they dictate how processes are standardized, tasks completed, and injury avoided. So, why would anyone hire a company to write such important documents when the company can’t even write a simple post on LinkedIn? The answer is: they wouldn’t!
Ready for your team to write more effective SOPs?
Sign up for our SOP course today.
See Course Details
Logos is a persuasive technique that refers to how we use logic in our documents. Readers are always looking for logic because that’s how they make sense of what they read. If a document is illogical, a reader may simply give up. How do we create logos? Facts, figures, charts, tables, and graphs, but also by ensuring that every document has an argument, which means including a:
- Recognizable premise
- Support for the premise
- Reasoning (why the information matters or what readers should do with the information)
Most readers decide to keep reading in six seconds.
Pathos is the appeal to the values of the reader. For instance, if readers value time, they may be less inclined to read through a document that’s not well-written. While pathos is certainly part of the document (does the document meet reader expectations, is it clear and easy to read?), pathos can also extend to the actual values of the reader. Does the reader care about the cost of a project, or is the reader more concerned with quality? Understanding reader values can go a long way toward creating a coherent document.
In short, writing matters a great deal because, in today’s global market, many businesspeople never come face-to-face with colleagues or clients, which means that the writing a company produces influences how it is perceived. How often does your company rely on the following in the course of its day-today business?
- Business documents: email correspondence, corporate policies, training manuals, and standard operating procedures (SOPs).
- Scientific documents: journal articles, research reports, and grant proposals.
- Technical documents: proposals, operational instructions, and instruction manuals.
Is your team’s writing costing you time and money? We can fix that!
Our team courses teach expert level writing strategies to transform their writing in no time.
View Team Course
Poor Writing Does Damage
Perhaps your company has dedicated extensive funds and time to bolstering its service offerings, improving products, and hiring and training brilliant experts. Poor writing can quickly spoil all of that:
- Careless emails can confuse or even offend recipients;
- Inconsistent internal documentation jeopardizes product quality and productivity;
- Unfocused or disorganized proposals cost money and lose customers;
- Overly complex, rambling reports leave colleagues and clients confused and angry;
- Error-riddled or carelessly worded social media posts appear unprofessional and can offend public readers; and
- Muddled, wordy, and poorly designed websites frustrate and turn away users.
Poor writing not only drains costs in terms of energy and time, it ultimately hurts your organization’s bottom line, too. Fortunately, the opposite is also true: Ensuring that your teams have the skills to write clearly, concisely, and accurately can save money and boost your firm’s reputation.
When it comes to business writing, there’s no denying the influence and persuasion it has. The better the writing skills, the more success your company will see as a whole. In summary, all professionals should remember that:
1. Effective Writing and Well-Written Documents Save Time and Money
No one wants to waste money — especially your company. Well-written documents save readers time and can boost the reputation of a company by lending credibility and fostering trust.
2. All Writing is Persuasive
Take note of Aristotle and the power of persuasion: Even when the purpose of a document is to “inform,” it nonetheless uses persuasive techniques and can sway readers one way or another. Readers judge the organization and the writer based on how easy the document is to understand.
3. Documents are the True Deliverable
Remember, the documents your organization produces are the face of the organization. Make sure they’re “pretty,” so to speak, by ensuring that these documents create a positive image.
If your team could use some serious help when it comes to effective writing, Hurley Write is standing by with countless courses geared towards helping your team improv and master all types of writing and communication. Contact us today for a free review or consultation.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to download the entire ebook to learn more about the importance of effective writing in the workplace.