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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Why good writing is good for business

By Tony Spencer-Smith

The Essentials of Great WritingAs a former editor-in-chief of an international magazine, a novelist and a corporate writing trainer, I bridle a little when I hear organisations classifying writing as a soft skill.

That's where writing sits in the minds of many managers - in the soft skills bag along with empathy and optimism, good manners and being a team player.  

Everything which is not directly related to the fundamental technical skills of a doctor, an engineer, an accountant or anyone else, ends up in the soft skills basket. The implication is that only hard skills are truly essential to doing a job well, and the touchy-feely stuff just the icing on the cake.

And that's just not true.

Let us count some of the ways good writing can help
Firstly, good writing can save you a great deal of time. If a report gets to the point quickly and efficiently, you don't have to spend ages wading through it. If the instructions from the new manager are clear and concise, it takes you no time to see what you have to do.  

Secondly, it can avoid damage to the reputation of your organisation. People tend to judge an organisation by the quality of its written material. If it is confusing or grammatically challenged, the public tends to think the organisation is generally sloppy.  

And every now and then, an error of wording can cause legal problems or even society-wide embarrassment. Penguin Group Australia had to squirm when they published a cookbook which gave a pasta recipe which called for "freshly ground black people." The publisher had to reprint 7,000 copies at a cost of $20,000.

Tony Spencer-Smith
Tlony Spencer-Smith 
Thirdly, well crafted words can be more influential. And that applies whether you are trying to get your staff to buy into a major change, or you want to sell more saucepans, impress with the quality of your thought leadership, make your brand hum with energy, educate citizens or raise more funds for charity.

Fourthly, skill with words is an essential component of good leadership. Words are a powerful persuasive and motivational tool.

Why good writing is integral to doing most jobs well
What all this adds up to is that writing is integral to how well you do your job.  

Accountants might stand or fall by the quality of their figures, but when they write reports words are their tools.

Scientists might be brilliant in their research into, say, climate change, but if they can't convey their findings with telling detail and show why they are vital to our future, they are in danger of failing to truly advance human knowledge.

If your marketing material is full of self-satisfied adjectives and buzzwords that whine like mosquitoes around a bed, you are unlikely to be giving people compelling reasons to buy your products.
Investing in writing training is not about being soft, it is about hard cash.

Tony Spencer-Smith will lead a one-day course on Better Business Writing on Friday 11 November, 10am - 4pm.

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