The billion-dollar business benefits from good editing

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The hard fact is that businesses are hamstringing their performance by using words badly. Tony Spencer-Smith
Tony Spencer-Smith

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One of the silliest things we do is call communication skills soft. It implies that they are not vital to employment in the way hard skills are. But how far can you go careerwise, if you cannot communicate effectively?

The hard fact is that businesses are hamstringing their performance by using words badly, both inside and outside the organisation.

In 2016, American business writing guru Josh Bernoff surveyed well over 500 businesspeople – and 81% of them agreed that poorly written material wasted a lot of their time. 'A majority say that what they read is frequently ineffective because it’s too long, poorly organised, unclear, filled with jargon, and imprecise,' he wrote in an article in the Harvard Business Review called 'Bad Writing is Destroying Your Company’s Productivity'1

‘Entry-level employees get little training in how to write in a brief, clear, and incisive way,’ he goes on. 'Instead, they’re immersed in first-draft emails from their managers, poorly edited reports, and jargon-filled employee manuals. Their own flabby writing habits fit right in. And the whole organisation drowns in productivity-draining blather.'1

In an interview in 2017, Bernoff put his finger on one of the biggest reasons for this: 'People are so busy that they don’t take the time to go back and improve what they’ve written. Ironically, that’s what’s wasting their colleagues' time and making everybody so busy.'

Writing well means taking the time to polish your copy before you foist it on your colleagues or customers. Editing is the key to ensuring efficient and effective writing.

In a blog published last year, American business expert Robb Sowby wrote: 'Good writing is like clean glass: your message should come through it clearly, not make the reader squint and strain to see it, as through a dirty window. In a well-composed ad, readers see your message; in a poorly written ad, readers see your writing and often miss the message. They’re distracted by a dirty window.'

That is a great way to think of editing: as cleaning those panes until nothing gets in the way of the facts and ideas that you are want to convey, the services you want to sell, or muddies the clarity of your brand.

Here are just three of the many benefits of taking the time to edit:

  1. Marketing magic. Who is going to want to do business with you if you present your goods and services with typos or empty phrases, or your website looks in desperate need of editing? What about blogs? You are not going to impress anyone with your brilliant ideas if they come dressed in grammar errors, punctuation horrors, verbosity or waffle ‘thickets’.
  2. Effective leadership. Who is more impressive: the boss who can’t get to the point and tries to impress with empty buzzwords, or the one who builds trust by thinking and writing clearly? Bernoff declares in his Harvard Business Review piece: 'Do this right, and you’ll get a reputation for truth. Your workers won’t waste time on the Kremlinology of reading your intentions; they’ll get to work on accomplishing the goals you set out for them.'
  3. Time saved. If people are forced to try to ferret out your meaning, or wade through reports that seem to go on forever without really saying anything, or edit your copy into respectable form, they are left with little time to do their jobs.

Taking the trouble to become a good editor is worth it – for your career and your company.

References

  1. Beaubien, Greg (01/10/2016). Is Bad Writing Wasting Your Company’s Time? The public relations strategist (1082-9113), 22 (3), p. 5.

First published . Last updated 14/12/2018. Disclaimer: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Newcastle and its employees.

About Tony Spencer-Smith

Tony Spencer-Smith loves words. He has worked with them all his life – ever since he published his own magazine while still in primary school. He moved on to become a prominent journalist, an award-winning novelist and a corporate writer and editor. In his training, he inspires others to share his enthusiasm for the power of language. Tony is one of Australia’s top corporate writing and editing trainers. In over a decade he has helped thousands of people from blue chip companies, government and not-for-profit organisations to upgrade their communication skills.

The broad experience he brings to his training includes being Editor-in-Chief of Reader’s Digest magazine in both Australia and South Africa; a senior newspaper journalist; and a corporate editorial expert who has written speeches, brochures, reports, websites and internal communications for top clients.

His children’s novel The Man Who Snarled at Flowers won the biggest literary prize in South Africa, while his latest book The Essentials of Great Writing was published in Australia in 2009.

Trainees leave Tony’s classes with a comprehensive set of writing and editing skills to raise their writing to the next level.

What our participants say about Tony’s short courses...