Is bad writing a silent weakness in your workplace?
There’s a hidden deficiency in almost every workplace. And it’s disturbingly easy to find.
Bad business writing.
It’s tempting to turn a blind eye to the waffly emails and sloppy documents your team produces. But the longer you ignore the problem, the longer your brand is at risk – and the longer your bottom line will suffer.
Here are three ways bad writing could be hurting your business right now.
(Ready? I hope you’re sitting down for this. Especially if you’re a business owner.)
1. Your customers are losing faith
Using technical, complex language to convey important messages does not impress your readers, nor prove your intelligence. It simply confuses, overwhelms – and alienates.
At best, your confused customers will suck up more of your time with needless questions. At worst, they’ll go elsewhere.
That’s how long you have to get your readers’ attention. Fill their eyes with fluff – and they’ll be gone before you know it.
Ten points if you understand this paragraph that I recently had to ‘translate’ for a client in the commercial real estate business:
To determine the adequacy of the indemnity period attaching to your Business Interruption coverage, you need to determine how confident you are that in the event of a total or significant loss, the entire premises can be demolished, land cleared, new premises rebuilt, and full occupancy obtained within your chosen indemnity period, taking various factors into account such as delays in gaining entry due to safety concerns, the time it will take for both the arson squad and engineers to conduct a thorough review, the time it will take to complete a tendering process, the time it will take to apply for and be granted building/planning permits, delays caused by weather and strikes, and the time it may take for the same/new tenant(s) to commence paying you rental income following completion of the rebuilding process(similar to the level of rental income that was being earned immediately prior to the insured loss at the very least).
(In case you noticed, yes, the paragraph also happens to be a single sentence. A 155-word sentence, to be precise.)
Does this sound like a person you want to do business with?
2. Staff productivity is being slashed
Have you ever thought about the amount of time your employees waste trying to decode their colleagues’ bad writing?
In his survey The State of Business Writing (2016), Josh Bernoff found that people in business spend 6% of total wages trying to understand poorly-written material.
That equates to almost US$400 billion of national income.
He also found that 81% of people agree with this statement:
‘Poorly-written material wastes my time.’
What are the biggest bugbears? Writing that’s:
- Too long
- Poorly organised
There’s no doubt about it. Confusing internal communication that sucks up your team’s time kills your bottom-line.
3. Your brand is at risk
Substandard writing reflects a substandard brand.
And there’s no better way to kill a first impression than a misplaced apostrophe, a spelling mistake… or a sentence with the clarity of winter fog.
Whatever it is, sloppy writing tells customers that your people are unprofessional – and that your business doesn’t pride itself on attention to detail.
In April last year, Centrelink was left with egg on its face after sending an error-riddled letter to a Melbourne student.
It even misspelt its own name as ‘Cedntrelink’.
The student thought the letter was…
‘… so bad it had to be a scam.’
Not a good look for Centrelink. Not a good look at all.
Good writing on the other hand…
Clear, concise writing nurtures the relationships you have with your staff, prospects, customers and partners.
It builds trust, gives readers confidence in your people – and says:
‘We’re easy to work with.’
How does your team stack up?
Let’s finish with this quick 5-point checklist to see how your people compare:
1. We believe that using big words and technical language proves we know what we’re talking about. YES/NO?
2. We love formal expressions such as ‘notwithstanding the fact that…‘, ‘in the event that…‘ and ‘it is important to note that…‘ YES/NO?
3. We don’t like to be too friendly or conversational in our writing. We believe a conservative tone makes us sound professional. YES/NO?
4. We believe that phrases such as ‘value-add‘, ‘disruptive‘, ‘customer-centric‘ and ‘next generation‘ build trust and establish credibility. YES/NO?
5. We don’t bother asking each other to review important emails, reports and proposals before we send them to customers… everyone has enough on their plate. YES/NO?
If you answered ‘YES’ to any of these questions, it might be time to improve the writing in your workplace.
(PSSST: This business writing course may help.)