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Maintaining Your Staff's Writing Skills
COPYRIGHT 2000 BY THE WRITING CENTER, INC., 129 Willowbrook Lane, West Chester, PA 19382-3300. All rights reserved. This article or any part thereof must not be reproduced or used in any form without the written permission of the authors.
How can you reinforce the use of good writing strategies in your people's on-the-job writing? Use these 5 tips:
- Encourage your staff to list a document's key ideas before writing to ensure complete content and logical organization. If you've asked for a report, for example, ask to see a list of key ideas or a preliminary outline before they start to write. Also, to ensure complete content and an appropriate level of detail, discuss how the information in the report will be used.
After the report is finished, explain what the writer did that helped you access information, what content was especially valuable, and provide one or two suggestions for improvement, as necessary.
- When you review a document, don't cross out the writer's words. Remember that your goal is to produce not only a better document but also a better writer. Poor writers can't be expected to learn anything if you rewrite a document for them. In fact, rewriting someone else's document only reinforces their perception of themselves as a "bad writer." Instead, as you review the document, bracket the words or phrases that might be left out or changed; then write your suggestions for improvement above.
- Phrase criticism as gently and positively as possible. Most people's egos are on the line when you discuss their writing. Reinforce the writer's strong points. Encourage the writer to reproduce them in future documents.
- Be flexible. Just because someone writes with a style that differs from your own doesn't mean that he or she isn't communicating clearly. Change someone else's words only with good reason:
- If information is incorrect or incomplete.
- If wording is misleading or illogical.
- If wording is negative or too blunt.
- If grammar or usage is incorrect.
- If the document is excessively wordy.
- When working to improve overall style, offer only a few suggestions at a time, usually beginning with suggestions about improving structure. Sometimes simply asking for a shorter version will eliminate a writer's tendency to be wordy or redundant.
Above all, give your people feedback. Let them know immediately that you appreciate their efforts to improve their writing and that you notice and care about good writing.
Helping a subordinate learn to communicate clearly will save time for both of you and help increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your group.
About the authors: Carol Klein and Sandra Nutting, founders of The Writing Center, Inc., West Chester, PA, provide training in Effective Business and Technical Writing to major corporations and organizations worldwide. For more information about our writing courses, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 610-436-4600.