Is Bad Writing Costing Your Company Valuable Time and Money?
Productivity. Everybody wants more of it. Employees strive to optimize their time, and business owners are eager to give them the tools to do so.
In fact, employers are so eager to boost employee productivity that investing in employee productivity is a top strategy for improving revenue. Twenty-one percent of small business owners want to “invest in training or tools to improve employee productivity” as a way to boost growth, according to the 2017 WASP “State of Small Business Report.”
This actually isn’t too surprising. Employees are expensive, and every business owner hopes to get the most out of their employees’ time and skills. In turn, the best employees are equally interested in getting more done. (Hey, we want a raise.)
The question is, how to make employees more productive, and I’ve got an unusual suggestion: Improve their writing skills. Instead of setting up a new workflow or downloading a productivity app, consider teaching them how to write better.
This applies to both employees and owners, and it becomes especially compelling once you learn that U.S. businesses spend about $3.1 billion every year on remedial writing training.
But that’s not even the scariest stat: 81% of business writing professionals say “Poorly written material wastes a lot of my time.” That wasted time is expensive, too; it tallies up to an estimated $400 billion in lost productivity, approximately 6% of our total time at work.
Yikes, right? But this could mean opportunity. Improving business writing skills could significantly improve employee productivity. The question becomes where to start? So, which specific writing habits are contributing to all this waste? Let’s consider the top three offenders:
1. Too long
Writing too long problem is so prevalent, there’s an acronym for it: “TL;DR” or “too long; didn’t read.”
Like it or not, attention spans are short. Readers are distracted and stressed. They want an answer NOW. The longer you make them wait for that answer, the more of them you’ll lose.
So apply Strunk and White’s famous advice: “Omit needless words.” If you apply this rigorously enough, you’ll be amazed as long, winding paragraphs dissolve into sentences. Suddenly, your 28-page report may collapse into just a few pages.
Don’t panic. This is a good thing. The shorter your piece of writing is, the more likely it will get read.
2. Poorly organized
Poorly organized ideas make your readers work harder than they should have to—readers don’t like that. So apply all the classic tools of writing structure, like:
- An index (a short one)
- Bullet points
- Short paragraphs
- Bolded words
Want an example of writing organization done right? Look to the military. Military people structure their emails in a way that could save your company hundreds of hours of time. Their email subject lines, always include keywords for clarity, and clearly state the action the recipient needs to take. These include:
- ACTION—Compulsory for the recipient to take some action
- SIGN—Requires the signature of the recipient
- INFO—For informational purposes only, and there is no response or action required
- DECISION—Requires a decision by the recipient
- REQUEST—Seeks permission or approval by the recipient
- COORD—Coordination by or with the recipient is needed
This method removes all guessing about what an email is about. Other practices applied to the body copy force writers to distill their message into a sentence summary, and then only provide background information if the reader needs to know.