., WoW

Overdrafting and Overdevelopment

Do people in your organization sometimes revise and revise and still have trouble getting the right message across? Maybe this will help.

Overdrafting and Overdevelopment
Overdrafting isn't just something you do at the bank. It also refers to the process of revising the life out of something you've written. 
You should always look over your work to see if it needs revising. Often, rearranging your paragraphs, or changing that one sentence or even that one word, will make a huge difference. Sometimes, however, it's tempting to revise more than you need to.
Revise Your Work, but Not Beyond Reason
Overdrafting is in part the product of having too much time, and we all know Parkinson's Law, that the task will always expand to fill the time available.

It's helpful to think back to the exams we all took in school. You should always check your work, but the more times you check it over, the more likely you are to change things that were right to begin with.

Try to Look at Your Work with Fresh Eyes
Ask the question, "Is this version better or simply different from what I had before?" advises PR guru Kathe Stanton (http://www.prcamp.net). We all fall into the mental trap of latest is greatest, in part to justify the time spent, and she recommends invoking the set-it-aside rule. Even half an hour can give you a new perspective.

It also helps to look at your work in a new way, she says. Even something as simple as changing the font or the font size can help - anything that will keep the piece fresh for you.

Your Strategy Could Be the Real Problem
If we know a piece of writing isn't working, we tend to focus on what doesn't work about the writing, rather than what should be laid at the feet of our old friend Scope. If the strategy isn't right, no amount of tinkering with the prose will get you where you're going.

Sometimes the fault is not so much overdrafting as overdevelopment - telling readers more than they need to know to understand your message. This is especially fatal in business, where everyone is busy and wants answers yesterday.

Tell Your Readers What They Need to Know
One reason people overdevelop their ideas is the desire to show they've covered all the bases. A close analogy is the misuse of PowerPoint. Many people want to use every bell and whistle and include every piece of data they can find to demonstrate how hard they've worked.

They're writing to impress rather than to communicate. I'm impressed if you can tell me what I need to know as simply as possible.

Feedback Lets You See if Your Scope Was Right
The opposite of overdevelopment is, of course, underdevelopment, or telling readers less than they need to know to understand your message.

Reader response will help you judge. You've underdeveloped your ideas if a lot of people come back to you with questions. You've overdeveloped your ideas if people miss the point and don't do what you ask.

Figure out what you have to include to achieve your purpose, and then give the reader that amount - not more, not less.

All the best,
P.S. Remember: a selection of my past newsletters is available online at http://www.holton.cc/archive.html.