At most organizations that struggle in some way with producing written content, figuring out that there is a problem is half the battle. For example, your writing projects might take too long, or your managers have to spend too much time editing subpar work. Or maybe the writing doesn’t achieve intended objectives (like sales presentations not hitting sales targets). However, recognizing that the problem exists is only the start.
The next step is figuring out what’s causing the problem. Unfortunately, the root cause isn’t always easy to figure out because writing problems can result from several different kinds of issues.
- You can have people problems, where the people producing, reviewing, and/or approving content are making mistakes or producing subpar work.
- You can have process problems, where the organization’s writing workflows are somehow broken or dysfunctional. Even great writers will struggle if the process they're required to follow is faulty.
- You can have strategy problems. If the organization has strategically decided to produce certain kinds of content that are a bad match for the intended audience or goal, the strategy itself will fail.
Understanding People-Based Writing Problems
Perhaps the most obvious and common problem with professional business writing is underdeveloped writing skills. Simply stated, most people tasked with producing written documents in the workplace were not evaluated or hired for their writing skills. Writing is considered a “soft” skill, and most people are hired based on their proficiency in the “hard” skills that are directly related to executing their primary job duties. As a result, it's common for writing problems to result from employees who need additional skills development.
Happily, this is one of the easiest writing problems to address; just make some professional writing courses available to your teams. One word of warning though: make sure the writing training is well targeted to the kinds of writing they’ll be producing. Academic training may not cut it for business-oriented writing projects, for example.
There could be other, less obvious problems related to people too.
For example, a more subtle but no less common problem is an unwillingness to write, which can happen when writing isn’t part of a person's core duties. Consequently, they see it as a task that distracts from – and may even impede – their primary work. In these cases, they may simply not want to write, and when they do, they’ll rush through it. Solving this problem means redefining roles and ensuring that workers aren’t inadvertently penalized for taking their writing and content production duties seriously.
Another people-related problem could be insufficient staff dedicated to writing projects. If the organization as a whole undervalues its writing output, it may not allocate enough people resources to writing projects. This means writing output will suffer delays and subpar quality. If the organization doesn't value writing, it may not assign writing tasks to its most valuable – and talented – staff. If the organization consistently only assigns its B- and C-level teams writing projects, it can’t be surprised when it only produces B- and C-level output.
Understanding Process-Based Writing Problems
Now let's say that your organization has no issues with the people producing written content. Even then, you can still run into problems! Broken workflows can lead to subpar writing even if the original writers are highly skilled and effective at the work.
A great example here is a broken workflow between writers and reviewers/approvers. To produce content that will satisfy the needs of the company and meet organizational objectives, those tasked with writing need to know what those objectives are and by what criteria the reviewers will be evaluating their work. If there are communication lapses, all writers can do is take a shot in the dark and hope it works, but that's still a setup-to-fail scenario.
The workflow dysfunction gets even worse if, in the review process, reviewers just fix the problems themselves and never communicate that back to the original writers. This prevents the writers from knowing that they need to do differently, virtually guaranteeing that mistakes will be repeated while burdening reviewers with extra work, not just on the current project, but on all future projects.
The only solution here is to review and revise underlying writing processes. This is as much a matter of skill as the actual writing production. Getting some outside consulting from writing experts can help tremendously.
Understanding Strategy-Related Writing Problems
Not all forms of content are alike. White papers developed to establish thought leadership and marketing collateral created to facilitate sales are two very different kinds of content. One of the most common issues at organizations is trying to create the wrong kind of content for the outcome they're trying to produce. The kind of content that directly affects sales may not be the same kind of content that establishes brand reputation and credibility.
Often, the solution with strategy problems is alignment, or ensuring consistency between corporate strategy, operations, workflows, and personnel. This might require the company to solve some higher-order problems in the process. For example, if different segments of the business are siloed, such that no one's on the same page, that's a big organizational-level problem that will have to be solved before your writing strategy can be optimized.
For more help, Contact Hurley Write for a consultation to assess, diagnose, and resolve your team's writing challenges.