Thursday, 17 December 2009

Business writing;why it should be like looking at the bottom of a glass of water

'I've never met a human being who would want to read 17,000 pages of documentation, and if there was, I'd kill him to get him out of the gene pool.' Joseph Costello

I'm sitting in front of a brand new cooker, with a trout on a tray and a pudding(apple cake) in said oven which should be cooking.

In my hand I have the instruction manual and I'm checking(for the third time) the symbols, the instructions and the recipe book which came with the oven.

In the end I admitted defeat and finished off my meal in the microwave, which was okay but not what I had in mind.

When finally, after a visit from an engineer we discovered the clock has to be set... before the cooker will work I felt very stupid.

But in my defence, nowhere in the instruction manual did it say so. And the engineer did agree that it caught out a lot of people.

Yet again it confirmed my suspicions that instruction manuals are written by people who understand how to do what the manual is about and they don't think of starting from the beginning.

While this is vital for manuals, it's also something to keep in mind whenever you write for business because jargon, assumptions and dense text are dangerous if you want to connect with the reader.

As writers we're complacent at our peril. In a workshop I headed up, a 300 word newspaper article that was clear to me, was criticised by most of the group for being dense, boring and too long to wade through. Even though the subject was of interest to them all, it hadn't captured their attention well enough to make them persist to the end.

Always we should be thinking about our writing:
  1. Is it clear?
  2. Is it to the point?
  3. Is it relevant?

Whatever you write won't interest everyone but if the writing ticks those 3 boxes then it stands a better chance of not being tossed(literally or metaphorically) in the bin

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