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Are we clear? Writing well can be key to your career

Bart Perkins | Jan. 14, 2016
Writing is an important communication tool that none of us can ignore.

It takes time to write clearly and succinctly. Be sure every IT department has adequate time to produce effective communications, including reports, accomplishments and concerns. Don’t make the common mistake of reducing costs by cutting time allocated to communication and documentation. It will create problems later. In particular, don’t believe vendors (or anyone else) who swear that their software is so intuitive that documentation is not needed! While new software is indeed becoming more intuitive, resulting business process changes still need to be clearly explained.

  • Create standard templates. Most business memos, letters and presentations are designed to inform, persuade, seek approval, or request or validate information. Typically, these communications consist of a standard set of sections, arranged in a particular order. Rather than beginning each writing assignment with a blank sheet of paper, create department templates for the most frequent communications. Purdue University and other sources have templates available for downloading.
  • Include written communications in job descriptions. Clear communication is crucial for IT management, project managers, business analysts, business relationship managers and others who regularly interact with the rest of the enterprise. Emphasize the importance of communication by including it in job descriptions, annual performance plans, and reviews. Reward clarity over style — IT does not need to have the next Hemingway.

Some people believe that highly specialized technical staff should be evaluated exclusively on their technical expertise. Although technical expertise is the most important requirement, clear communication greatly increases the value of technical staff. Most executives want short, direct answers with details supplied only in response to questions. By contrast, most technical staff prefer to provide sufficient context and details to allow others to reach logical conclusions. Supervisors of technical specialists will continue to be forced to translate technical documents into management communications until technical specialists learn to supply the appropriate level of detail for communicating outside IT.

  • Support communication education. Make writing classes available for people who want to advance their careers. Fortunately, such courses for technical staff are widely available online, many at low or no cost through Coursera and other websites. For a more interactive experience, most colleges also provide such classes. Offer employees tuition reimbursement.

In “Why Kim Kardashian Can’t Write Good,” John McWhorter, a Columbia University professor, argues that spoken language is becoming more important than written language. In the 19th century, many high school graduates wrote better than the average college graduate writes today. This is understandable, since speakers of that time could only be heard by those present, and a wider audience could only be reached through written documents. Today’s high-quality record/playback equipment remove space and time barriers; the resulting presentations can easily be viewed anywhere in the world. As a result, speaking and delivery style is emphasized, at the expense of writing expertise.


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