Why it's Still Important to Write Well
Despite all the recent brouhaha about the wonders of ChatGPT and the imminent AI-takeover of organisational communications, the art of writing with clarity remains a key competency if you value excellent communication with all your stakeholders - internal and external.
AI doesn’t know your audience like you do
Yes, AI can complete some tasks faster than humans, and generic, low-level transactional communications benefit from outsourcing to AI. However, Chat GPT cannot critically evaluate the nuances of your target audience’s communication needs and produce content that matches the complexities of your discipline, brand or business. As the writer, you’re still required to analyse your audience and target your content, structure and style, so you truly connect with your readers.
Frustrated with the quality of writing in your organisation?
You’re not alone. In the 25 years that I’ve been delivering specialist writing training and coaching, the same problems surface. Employers complain that staff write ambiguous emails that don’t contain all the relevant information needed to complete the request; emails fail to convey clear actionable points; and the biggest annoyance – cc’ing everyone in the company into a message that’s not relevant to them!
Time is wasted, productivity is reduced, and morale is affected. And that’s just email. Talk proposals, reports or business cases, and employers lament the fact that writers fail to sequence information coherently, don’t craft clear and well-substantiated recommendations, can’t write succinctly and lack confidence with spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Write so it’s impossible to misunderstand
Business writing has always been challenging. Why? Simply because any business writing is effectively a one-way exercise - writers encode their messages based on their perceptions and readers decode the messages based on their ‘different’ perceptions and assumptions.
We might be using the same language, but we’re taking different meanings from the message. The solution? Roman educator and rhetorician Quintilian, living in the first century AD, got the emphasis right, when he said:
One should aim not at being possible to understand, but at being
impossible to misunderstand.
Effective writing demonstrates competence and enhances your reputation
Effective writing has the power to demonstrate your competence: how well you think and how well you process data. The planning, thought and application put into coherent and cohesive writing translates into the ability to articulate your ideas clearly when you have to present in person or online. It establishes and maintains your credibility as a professional and, therefore, has the power to influence your professional success.
Plus, the quality of your writing reflects on your organisation’s image and reputation. Stakeholders make judgements based on perceptions. Consequently, verbose, ambiguous and sloppy writing that lacks clarity and is full of grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors creates a very poor image in your reader’s mind.
Start with a structure: PAMS
Just as every journey needs a map, every document you write needs a structure and there are specific message structures for every business writing genre. The PAMS template is a useful start.
- Purpose: Why are you writing this document for this audience at this time? Define the ‘what’s-in-it-for-me’ proposition for your reader (WIIFM).
- Audience: Do your audience analysis. What does this audience need to know? What questions do they have? Is this your primary or secondary audience?
- Message: Scope - What information do you need to include? What information is not required? What key messages do you want your audience to take away? Have you included a call to action?
- Style: Is your writing clear, correct, concise, courteous and complete? Have you matched the tone to the message? Are your usage and layout consistent? Have you adhered to contemporary business writing conventions? Most rules have stayed the same, but with the advent of word processing, some conventions have changed.
The digital world has rewired our brains
It’s widely acknowledged that clicking through multiple screens throughout the day, as we read our digital communications, affects how we process and interpret messages. What many of us don’t realise is, when writing, we need to adjust the visual layout of our messages to allow for the attention deficit of our readers. Key to helping your reader decode your message accurately includes using a logical structure, as well as white space, action-focused headings and bullet and numbering systems.
Business writing training - save time, increase productivity and enhance your reputation
Teams who communicate effectively may increase their productivity by as much as 25%.
Retrieved 29 April 2023 https://pumble.com/learn/communication/communication-statistics/
Writing in a way that puts your reader at the centre and expresses information in a clear, coherent and consistent style is a gift to your reader. It enhances your professional credibility, builds positive relationships with stakeholders and allows you to achieve your business goals. Effective writing, however, requires time, discipline and improves with practice. So it pays to be intentional about it.
In short, great business writing is a gift to all your stakeholders, one that will improve collaboration and minimise communication breakdown. And, in the world of remote and hybrid working, where we rely so heavily on digital written communication, in-person or online writing training is a gift worth investing in.
Authored by Desirée Williamson, our technical and business writing specialist, with no assistance from AI.
If you would like some help with business writing, contact Nicky on firstname.lastname@example.org or 03 943 2373.