Pick any given organisation and you’ll find a range of writing abilities.
There’s Alex who’s polishing off his second novel, Claire who thinks spellcheck is adequate proofreading, and Philip … That’s Philip, who really knows what he’s writing because he has a PhD, but unfortunately no one else can understand or use his writing.
As new people come into the organisation, they adapt to the style of writing they see around them. This isn’t a big problem until a bunch of people are reusing Philip’s work as a model. Writing the same thing twice in different words is fine, right? How about sentences like ‘going forward, tactical challenges and selections are interrelated to how we will reinforce our roles and enhance our expertise’? Eventually, writing documents in Philip’s wordy and bureaucratic style becomes the norm.
You probably already know the advantages of writing in a reader-focused style. Let’s be real here: clients expect everything — from your emails through to your terms and conditions — to be easy to understand and act on. If they have to waste time figuring out what you’re trying to say, they’re not going to read it.
Worldwide, many organisations have ‘improving communication’ as one of their goals. The real challenge is embedding this change across a living, and often growing, organisation.
We’ve worked with many organisations to create a plain English culture within their organisations. Having the goal of ‘improving communications’ is admirable, but you need measurable results and steps to achieve success. Budgets are getting smaller and return on investment is crucial.
We use a document audit to measure the quality of writing at your organisation. This audit involves assessing 12 to 15 documents from your writers against 10 key criteria for plain language. You’ll get a report on each document (here’s an example) and a snapshot look at the quality of writing your organisation is churning out every day.
Here’s a graph from an audit Write carried out for a government ministry. We assessed sample documents against 10 elements of plain language. In the graphs, green means the element was ‘met’, yellow means ‘almost met’, and red means ‘needs work’. As you can see, this ministry had quite a few Philips. (But they had some good writers too.) One year later we were asked to do a second audit at the same ministry. In between the audits, people had been focusing on improving their communication.
The results of the 2014 audit showed that the combined scores improved against all elements. This means clearer documents for clients and upskilled writers across the organisation.
You have the knowledge. But delivery is letting you down. Changing the writing habits of your organisation is not only possible, it will have more benefits than you ever thought possible. Stop the spread of Philip.
Call Paul on 903 2571 or email email@example.com
I’m sorry if your name is Philip — I promise it was picked randomly. Nothing personal against the Philips out there.