What do you do when you encounter problems that (possibly) track back to your team’s writing output?
At first, you might not realize there is a problem with your team’s writing, exactly. You just know that you’re spending too much time editing, you’re getting too many complaints or confused inquiries from readers, and you’re not achieving the desired results. You’re aware there’s a problem, but what that problem is may be unclear.
Be wary of self-diagnosing.
As leaders become aware there’s a problem, they’ll start trying to figure out what’s going wrong and assembling solutions. This is exactly what you should be doing: researching, talking to colleagues, and/or doing some kind of root cause analysis to get to the bottom of the issues. But be careful; there are a couple of traps here.
First, accurately diagnosing the problem can sometimes require an expert’s eye; otherwise, you risk misdiagnosing the problem altogether.
For example, even if you recognize there’s a problem with the writing your organization is producing, can you tell if it’s a quality, process, or people problem? Answering that question can be really challenging. In other words, if a manager is constantly sending the same or similar edits back to the team, it can be really tough to figure out if there’s something going on with the people doing the writing or if the editing process itself is somehow broken.
Second, your self-diagnosis could lead you to the wrong solution.
For example, you might conclude that your team needs additional training in writing, but then you end up retaining the wrong kind of trainer. If your proposals are littered with errors, academic-style instruction might help. But if the issue is higher level – e.g., your team doesn’t know the difference between features or benefits or doesn’t know how to convey marketing messaging in compelling ways – academic courses won’t help. Even worse, if you misdiagnosed yourself and went with the wrong solution to the wrong problem, you might later resist solutions that could actually help because you’ve already been burned by a failed solution.
The answer: consult with a writing doctor.
The best help you can get is someone who can both diagnose and fix your writing problems. Here, you’re looking for experts in the kind of writing you do (business, engineering, scientific, etc.) who can serve as strategic consultants in addition to teachers or educators. They should have a portfolio of fixes they can prescribe, but should also have the ability to accurately assess and diagnose the actual problem in the first place.
It's exactly like going to a medical provider who uses their expertise to first diagnose the condition correctly so that they can prescribe the right medicine for the underlying cause.
For instance, we had one client that had to produce highly technical reports for both technical and non-technical audiences. That is a nontrivial challenge to overcome, and they were struggling to produce content that could satisfy everyone. It wasn’t clear to them what exactly was going on, however, much less how to fix it. They came for a consult. Ultimately, fixes included reiterating some fundamentals of good writing but also included developing specific strategies for translating technical work into broadly understandable – yet still correct and accurate – prose. Finally, there were some process improvements needed to ensure quality control and reviewing processes were efficient.
In another case, another organization – responsible for writing technical root cause analysis reports – had a lot of writers in different areas, each sometimes addressing different stakeholders and readers. The differentiation and variability had led to writing processes becoming idiosyncratic and inconsistent. They needed strategies to ensure their reports were accurate, clear, while maintaining a consistent voice, style, and level of quality.
Every organization is unique in its writing needs and deserves unique solutions.
The point we’re making is that no two organizations are exactly alike: the writing they produce isn’t the same; it doesn’t serve the same goals; and when problems occur, they won’t be the same problems. Most writing training courses, however, present their offering as one-size-fits-all. Those teachers will tell you where to put your commas and will teach you about subjects, predicates, and objects in sentence structure, but that could well be solving the wrong problem.
Recognizing, understanding, and fixing writing problems can be complex. If you want to turn your team into more effective and more efficient writers, while eliminating stress and overhead from leaders having to manage that content production, the best help you can get is going to be from expert advisors who can do more than just teach basic grammar. Instead, you want someone who can help diagnose and design a program to help current writers improve, but also all the future ones.
For more help, Contact Hurley Write for a consultation to assess, diagnose, and resolve your writing challenges.