Posted by Barbara Wilson
Clear writing is dangerous writing. If you edit out all the padding and get to the point, you might actually say something, and this can be quite disconcerting. After all, you might not want to be bold and stick your head above the parapet. You might be quite at home with a nebulous style.
This is a tricky issue. Many people would like their organisation to produce documents and emails that are clearer and more succinct. But not all their colleagues may share this wish. They may pay lip service to the idea, but find it harder to comply or feel that more complex language lends an aura of professionalism to their subject.
Writing-skills training can help, to an extent. As long as an organisation chooses a good provider, staff will learn how to plan and structure their thoughts, focus on their readers’ interests and write more straightforwardly in an engaging style. This helps them feel more confident and debunks many of the unhelpful myths they may have come across at school and university. Often people undergo what almost amounts to a religious conversion, as the scales fall from their eyes and they realise how effective business writing can be.
Yet when they go back to the office, the language of many of the people they interact with will not have changed (if they haven’t been on or commissioned the course) and the existing culture may mean it’s difficult to put their new skills into practice. (A style guide can help.)
Most of the written documents they see will be in a style they will now feel needs changing. But if it’s their line manager who’s writing it, that poses the more intractable problem of how to confront this.
Sometimes it’s not individuals but the culture of the entire organisation that gets in the way. Although its people may recognise the need for change, and even welcome it initially, it’s all-too easy to slip back into those familiar old habits or be helped back into them by negative feedback.
So, be bold, encourage your colleagues to look at their preconceptions about language, especially from your readers’ point of view, and if they seem to be really stuck, send them on a good writing-skills course.