People often assume they are at least average writers because, after all, they have been writing since childhood. So if everyone is proficient, why is there so much mediocrity and outright embarrassing writing in the workplace?

Because people take it for granted and overlook the craftsmanship required, whether it is an email to a superior, a story or a news release, or a proposal. For a message to be clear and credible, certain elements need to be in place, and when they are not, it potentially creates misunderstanding, leaves a negative impression, or both.

When the training department offers a writing workshop and people leave saying it was “a good refresher of the basics,” such an evaluation overlooks the fact that there really is nothing basic about writing.  The basics are the ABCs. Beyond that, crafting an effective message requires important abilities:

  • the skill to identify words that don’t contribute and remove them
  • the skill to simplify complex information by providing examples, using metaphors, and weaving in explanation
  • the skill to organize information and keep it unified around one main idea
  • the skill to link sentences and paragraphs cohesively so that the reader moves fluidly from one thought to the next

Think of the many high-profile legal cases involving lawsuits filed against corporations by employees, competitors, or the government. Key evidence often focuses on poorly crafted messages: email, formal memos, or letters that invited misinterpretation or that created obvious liabilities for the company.

As the great playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” People haphazardly string together a few lines and assume they have communicated, because they know what they are thinking and what they intend to convey. They fail to recognize that the words on the screen are not likely to leave the reader with the same meaning.