What do you do when the personal tastes of one person end up commandeering the entire writing process at a company?
First, you need to understand how destructive this situation can be on writing quality. To start, it erodes the writing and editing processes, as it introduces a different kind of editing separate from developmental, mechanical, or line editing: editing for "voice" or "personal style." This means when reviewers or the boss go through a piece, even if there’s nothing wrong with it (indeed, even if it’s in good shape), they’ll make changes just because they don’t like how it was written or how it sounds or, perhaps even more damaging, because they feel they have to touch the document in some way.
In other words, they make changes without actually improving the effectiveness of the writing.
This is usually a total waste of time and can backfire because it
- Can create resentment from the writer.
- Can lead to learned helplessness, where the writer stops trying because they know the boss is just going to make changes no matter what.
- Means the reviewer/manager is going to spend unnecessary time focused on a piece of writing that’s already in shape to publish and use, taking time away from other work.
- Runs a real risk of actually weakening the document because it’s written to please the reviewer rather than the intended reader.
That last point is particularly noteworthy because it illustrates how editing for personal style can hurt the business as a whole. Over time, writers learn to shape their content to please the reviewer or boss and, as we know, reviewers and bosses leave, get promoted, or otherwise vacate their role. Their writing output might align with what’s good for the company or the reader, but it won’t always. As a result, writers start to produce communications and written documents that can actively get in the way of achieving goals, because it’s aimed to please one person only – and that person isn’t the intended reader.
It’s even worse when the writer doesn’t know what the reviewer wants and can’t tailor their writing at all. In this situation, everyone loses:
- The reviewer gets frustrated and spends more time editing than they should.
- The writer gets frustrated and resentful and stops trying as hard or wastes even more time trying to get it “just right.”
- Readers don’t get what they need out of the writing.
- The writing itself underperforms.
- The business or institution falls short of its objectives.
All because your team is trying to appease a boss or reviewer who’s never satisfied. How do you resolve this issue?
1: Refocus attention and priority on the intended reader.
Everyone who writes needs to clearly understand who the writing is for and what the reader is supposed to do after they finish reading. Fundamentally, the people whose opinion of the writing really matters are those who will be reading it. Customers. Colleagues. Prospects. Executives. The public. Every element of the writing and editing process should be geared toward producing content that will have the intended impact on the intended audience.
Writers and reviewers may have legitimate disagreements about how to best engage the reader, but the intended reader should always serve as the guiding star in those conversations.
2: Address any skills gaps in the writing or editing processes.
Obviously, better writing will necessitate fewer revisions and be more likely to please managers and leaders as well as the intended reader.
Don’t neglect reviewing, either: effective revising is also a skills-based activity. Sometimes, leaders and editors need to improve their own writing and reviewing skills so that they can focus on what’s important to the intended reader and not on pet peeves or things that don’t result in a better document. In extreme cases, they may not even be able to tell the difference between genuinely necessary edits and those that are just personal preference.
3: Accurately diagnose any underlying problems.
Why writers focus on appeasing leaders probably seems straightforward at first glance; who doesn’t want to make their boss happy? However, many issues could be at play here, and it’s often a combination of factors, including
- The writing and reviewing processes are genuinely subpar.
- There are communication breakdowns within or between teams.
- There are office politics going on.
- The business’s larger communications strategy is misaligned with its objectives.
- And more.
As a result, one of the most important steps to correcting this problem is correctly understanding what’s causing it in the first place.
The good news is that once identified, this is a relatively easy problem to correct.
To re-orient your team’s writing to the customer and ensure writers and reviewers are working in tandem rather than at cross-purposes, contact Hurley Write for a no-obligation consultation about your writing and reviewing situation today.