Don’t let poor writing undermine your business

Don’t let poor writing undermine your business

By Natasha Ndlebe

The number of employees who struggle to say what they mean in writing is shockingly high. Clear writing is free of vague statements and maintains the reader’s attention. Mastering this skill will benefit not only your company but your career.

Poor writing can be costly. A 2004 study conducted by the US National Commission on Writing found that it costs about US$3.1 billion annually (about R44 billion at today’s exchange rate) to improve the writing skills of corporate employees. A similar 2005 study estimated that the state government spent an average of US$221 million annually (about R3 billion) to improve its employees’ writing skills. But the potential costs of poor writing in the private and public sectors actually exceed the costs calculated by the study.

A rushed email to a client creates a negative impression. Unclear written product instructions, for example, can result in lawsuits or the loss of customers. An ambiguous job advert can confuse the job seeker. An unprofessionally crafted annual report reflects poorly on your firm. Writing laden with jargon and redundant sentences leaves readers puzzled. And badly constructed written communications can knock your reputation – just ask Samsung.

After some of Samsung’s Galaxy Note7 phones went up in flames, the company drafted an open letter to its customers. Instead of being clear and direct, the opening line seems to be straight out of PR101: “At Samsung, we innovate to deliver breakthrough technologies that enrich people’s lives. An important tenet of our mission is to offer best-in-class safety and quality. Recently, we fell short on this promise.” The note shied away from explaining the effect of the fault, i.e., the fire it caused (“Samsung is fully committed to identifying and addressing the source of the Note7’s battery issue”), but put it down to an “issue”. This non-apology is sure to irritate and leave consumers unsatisfied.

Clear and succinct communication is invaluable. If the cost of poor communication is too high, then get training on how to write more effectively. Learn how to write for impact.