Some Thoughts on writing

Here at Apis, we focus on delivery so any writing that's done has to help things progress. It might seem self-evident, but the writing has to achieve something. Andrew Warner shares his thoughts on how to help that along

Here at Apis, we focus on delivery so any writing that’s done has to help things progress. It might seem self-evident, but the writing has to achieve something. Andrew Warner shares his thoughts on how to help that along:

You’re writing to make something happen, what is it?

The point here is that something needs to happen as a result of the document being distributed. Dan Roam, in Show and Tell: How Everybody can make Extraordinary Presentations, describes four storylines that can help us tailor our writing to match its purpose. The storylines are:

Identify your audience, figure out what you want your writing to do to their brains and write the piece to do that.

What else needs to happen for the writing to be effective?

Most documents and other pieces of writing don’t stand alone. A senior armed-forces officer responsible for capability projects was heard to say that capability development is a strategic full-contact sport. No matter how beautifully crafted a document is, if the back-channel and preparatory work hasn’t been done it will fail.

Documents are just one part of communications and stakeholder relationship work. Where does it fit, what does it contribute and how might it do that best?

Is the writer equipped to do the writing?

Geary Rummler and Alan Brache, in Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart, describe the factors affecting human performance. While their model is directed at the process tasks people perform, it is helpful in writing tasks too. Rummler and Brache said that the following need to be in place to get the best performance from anything involving people:

To state the bleeding obvious again, getting a person to write about a subject they don’t understand in a format they’re unfamiliar with for an audience they don’t know when they’re focussing on something else is sending them on a fool’s errand.

It has a name, shouldn’t everyone know what it is?

Another common mistake with document writing is thinking that giving it a label magically confers a shared understanding of what it aims to do. Richard Bach in Jonathan Livingston Seagull wrote:

“A name is a label, and as soon as there is a label, the ideas disappear and out comes label-worship and label bashing, and instead of living by a theme of ideas, people begin dying for labels…”

My advice is not to rely on a document name as the main determinant of whether, or not, people are on the “same page.”

Happy writing.