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Make Good Writing Contagious

Bad writing can be contagious. People in organizations learn bad writing habits from each other in two main ways: by copying bad models or by copying the wrong models.

Make Good Writing Contagious
Everyone is busy, so employees often look through the files to see if there's something they can use or modify to meet their present writing needs. 

I once worked at a company where a letter sending someone information typically started, "As per our telecon, please find enclosed..." Not only was this a bad model, but many people thought the formal and stilted style made it sound "important." They were shocked at the idea that one could simply say, "Here's the xyz document I mentioned."

Other people follow a model that was developed for a different audience or a different purpose. They may, for example, copy a letter that was originally targeted at engineers and forget that the CFO they're writing to in this case has completely different concerns.

Our goal as business owners or managers should be to make good writing contagious. We can do this, not only by providing good models, but more importantly, by encouraging our employees or colleagues to focus on purpose, audience and scope.

When they first sit down to write, people should ask, "What am I trying to achieve? What result do I envision?" It's helpful if we can get them to articulate the answers to these questions in advance. If they don't know what their purpose is, they're not going to achieve it.

They should also ask, "Who is my audience? What function do they have in the organization? Are they hostile or friendly to my message? What is going to motivate them to buy my product or service? What might cause them not to buy my product or service?"

At the same time employees should ask, "What do I have to include to achieve my purpose? What one or two key messages MUST I succeed in communicating? What is irrelevant to my purpose and should be left out?"

If people master purpose, audience and scope, they are 90 percent of the way there. We can then reinforce good writing by complimenting exceptional efforts, preferably within earshot of other employees. 

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