Businesswoman writing in office.
Business leaders will benefit from writing more. Oral communication, text messages and terse emails have a place in communications, but writing out an article offers strong benefits—not just to the readers but to the writer as well. The benefits include clearer thinking, eliminating errors and ensuring accurate communication. On the tenth anniversary of writing for Forbes.com, I report here on what business leaders can gain from writing regularly.
“Clear thinking becomes clear writing: one can’t exist without the other,” wrote Bill Zinsser, author of On Writing Well. An article always starts with an idea, but sometimes the idea is vague and muddled. Writing requires that the idea become orderly. For example, a company’s leadership team decides to prioritize employee retention. The CEO opens a word processor and starts to write. How the program will work is likely to form the core of the CEO’s thoughts at first, but dim recollection of old classwork may lead to who, what, where, why and when as well as how.
Simon Sinek taught us to start with why, and that’s valuable advice. Management discussions often focus a great deal on the details of a program. Writing out an explanation compels the executive to return to the beginning, of why this program is being done.
Rolling through the other Ws leads to the important question of who? Who will be responsible? What are the roles of senior leadership, human resources staff and line managers? If nobody is specifically responsible, then nobody will execute the plan.
“When?” is another crucial question for any business effort. To-do items without deadlines seldom get done.
A clear written explanation helps ensure that the program, whatever it is, makes sense. And if it cannot be written clearly, then maybe the program needs to be re-thought.
The process of writing also can expose errors. An argument for a program should be bolstered by evidence. The writer is sure of an argument and jumps to the data to support the point. But sometimes the data don’t do their job of supporting the writer’s hunch. When that happens, the writer faces a serious challenge: Is this argument crucial for the main point being addressed, or does the main point survive without it? My own file of “not published” articles includes numerous cases in which points I wanted to make turned out to be false.
Sometimes a point turning out to be invalid does not refute the main thesis of the article. Ridding the article of that point is very helpful. The response of a reader who is knowledgeable will be to discredit the entirety of the writer’s perspective. In oral presentations it’s easier to toss out unsupported ideas, but a good writer double-checks the data.
Written works reduce the chance for errors in communication. A person speaking off the cuff often makes errors, such as defining inflation as “too many goods chasing too few dollars.” This backwards statement (which I, a professional economist, once said) will not survive a single round of editing, but may survive a spoken presentation. When readers see a possible …….