Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why is Business Writing so Awful?

This was a question posed on the International Association of Business Communicators web site recently and about three dozen people responded.

Here is some of the rationale people gave:

They don't teach people how to write in college - and then they get out into the business world and there's no one to train them.

Executives are uncomfortable letting others write for them and so take all the punch out of what they say.

Writing for SEO means you don't write at the highest level you can - instead it's to fuel the search engines.

Layers of review water down text - and if lawyers are involved it only gets worse.

" I've come across many people who can write well technically and stun with their dextrous manipulation of multiple clause sentences.. . but they are not compelling."

"The biggest problem is that most people think of this as business writing instead of communicating. . . The goal needs to be: communicate in ways that drive the results you wish to achieve.

So what does the expert marketer think? The bar is just way, way too low. I hired a writer once who had a masters degree from a very prestigious "business writing" program and she had no idea how to organize information or determine what was important and what was fluff. She was a good technical editor - but she wasn't a good writer.

I was talking to a former colleague once about the writing that came out of our company and how bad some of it was.

And he said "I now understand that the bar is so low the stuff we produce - even when it's not really good - is better most of the other stuff out of there."

His point was if our clients didn't know what good writing was and didn't respect and admire it - then when they got something that was just OK, but comprehensible and said what they wanted - they were happy. I agree with that.

I also think that most kids are not taught to write in school unless they are in a communications or arts magnet program in middle and high school. I remember the stuff my ex-husband used to get when he was a teaching assistant at MIT.

Some of the papers didn't even make sense. He failed one girl on a paper and she came to him absolutely hysterical. She'd never gotten anything less than an A or B before on an assignment. She was a science and engineering whiz but no paid attention to her writing. When he did - and she calmed down - he was able to help her get better.

So if we as business professionals do not take the time to teach those who work for us - and over the years I have spent a lot of time trying and gotten very little management support for it in the PR world - we bear a lot of the responsibility too.

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