Imagine at your business there is a place you can go for one-on-one coaching to boost your writing skills. A gentle editor at-the-ready to help you find what you want to say and who’s your target audience. You’ll work through the text together to create content that better connects your business with your customers. No sweat, no stress, just like having a guiding spirit to coax your inner-writer to wordplay at work.
That’s what a writing centre or editorial coaching service is.
I first heard about it in the Harvard Business Review story, Why Your Organization Needs a Writing Centre. It tells the story of 250 bank examiners in the US Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia using an in-house writing centre to significantly boost their written reports – for clarity and impact. The concept borrows from writing coaching centres you’ll find in many post-grad faculties in universities.
In the Harvard Business Review piece, the writer, Jessica Weber navigates her own path through the bank dictating it be voluntary, give feedback in person or by phone, avoids normal management channels, welcomed repeat visitors, and importantly, measured the results. They showed dramatic improvements in the writing’s overall quality, organisation, clarity, support, analysis and (we have to mention) grammar.
In a business context, perhaps an editorial coaching centre is a better fit, says Review writer Josh Bernoff. It’s not about having an unseen (editorial) hand ‘fix’ documents, but installing an editorial coach to upskill writers about why the changes are needed.
He also surveyed 547 businesspeople last year, specifically those who wrote at least two hours weekly (apart from emailing) and on average read about 25 hours per week for work (including emails). More than eight out of 10 of them said poorly written material wasted their time. Much of what they read was “frequently ineffective because it was too long, poorly organized, unclear, filled with jargon and imprecise”, said Bernoff. (He publishes a daily ‘Writing Without Bullshit’ blog you can subscribe to from here).
Poor writing costs business big bickies. A US study found blue chip businesses spend up to $US3.1B on remedial writing each year and more than 90 per cent of that was spent on existing employees. Australian businesses, organisations and government agencies aren’t immune either. An Australian Industry Group survey found nine out of 10 employers said the poor literacy standards of their staff was hurting their business.
The chief executive of the Australian Industry Group Innes Willox said on ABC Radio that Australia needed to have the basics in place before a digital economy could be built.
“If our workforce of the now and of the future are having difficulty reading and writing, it’s going to be very, very difficult if not impossible for them to pick up those high edge technical skills that we’re going to need to compete.”
Last year Immigration Department Secretary Michael Pezzullo urged senior public servants to not use jargon and writing “lush with verbs”.
“In all of our work, we should reject jargon, imprecision, inactive phrasing, woolly terms, padding and unclear-thinking language. All of our work requires clear, crisp, meaningful and expressive communication,” he said, as reported in The Canberra Times.
But having poor literacy skills is surprisingly common.
The company, Vocational Literacy, claims at least one in five tertiary degree holders have “literacy skills below the minimum required level”. They point to Australian Bureau of Statistics research, which shows 46% of Australians don’t have enough literacy to cope with “reading a newspaper, or a restaurant menu, or following a recipe or understanding directions on a medicine bottle”. This impacts safety as well as business productivity.
“It can be difficult for the employer to identify which of their staff need extra help. They will avoid tasks which demand high-level reading and writing, to the extent of being ill on the day or not applying for supervisor positions,” says the site.
“Most people are not good at judging their own literacy and numeracy levels, with many rating their skills as “excellent” despite tests revealing their skills to be inadequate.”
So, how will a writing or editorial coaching centre ‘embedded’ in a business or organisation help staff who think their literacy is fine?
A softly, softly service that’s flexible, accessible and run by an approachable writing expert. Yes, it needs a nudge from management, an endorsement, but to work effectively you can’t force staff to seek editorial coaching. Better literacy – and plain English writing – need to be on the radar throughout your business. That’s your path to ensure your internal and external customers ‘get’ your key messages, build a rapport with your business and in turn boost the productivity of your business.
You’d actually an editorial coach who’s enthusiastic about good writing and wants to share that passion. Someone who can make the editorial process fun yet useful.
For businesses in the Central West of NSW, I’m offering my services as an editorial coach to set up a regular or occasional writing centre at your workplace. I’m already in talks about setting a fortnightly one up in a high school to help students as well as admin and teaching staff. My vision is to sit down with people who struggle with words and find out what they want to achieve with their text, who’s their target audience and guide them on their path. I’ll be kicking off this partnership in mid-August. Stay tuned for updates.
Writing shouldn’t be hard. You can always improve your writing. Let me show you the way.