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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.

pen writing notes studying

As students, most of us probably wished we had fewer papers to write. Wasn’t there a more efficient way to demonstrate that we had learned the things we needed to learn?

What we probably didn’t realize is that by writing so often, we were learning how to write. And knowing how to write is a key skill in many occupations, including IT. But for IT staffers who didn’t absorb the lesson and still don’t write well, there’s still hope.

When project requirements, business cases, IT strategies, supplier contracts and other documents are not clearly written, they are likely to be misinterpreted. The result is often additional work, with cost overruns, systems that don’t meet user needs, legal disputes and other problems. Even a simple email requesting a 2:00 call can be misinterpreted if the time zone is not specified and callers are in different parts of the world. Moreover, business letters, memos, presentations, podcasts and videos are often read or watched months or years after they were created, without any additional explanation from the author. The time lag can complicate matters and misunderstandings even further.

Unfortunately, the clarity of business communications has gotten worse over time. CIOs regularly complain to me about letters, memos and presentations that leave them struggling to decipher the author’s point. Grammatical errors, punctuation problems, overuse of buzzwords or acronyms, and run-on sentences result in incomprehensible documents. When busy professionals get confused, lost or bored, they often stop reading and dismiss the author as poorly educated and not very intelligent.

Executives expect clear communications. While all departments struggle for clarity, it is of particular concern to IT organizations. Despite IT’s increased stature over the last decade, some executives still believe that IT is a cost center staffed with techies who don’t understand or appreciate business issues and subtleties. Communication deficiencies are highlighted when executives compare IT documents with those from public relations, marketing or other departments staffed with professional communicators.

IT leaders who are concerned that documents produced by IT are not engaging the intended audience should consider taking the following steps:

  • Utilize professionals. Engaging the services of a professional writer or someone from corporate communications to edit important documents reflects the recognition that business communications are an important part of IT’s job. CIO magazine reports that communications specialists are increasingly common in IT; hire your own professional, if the size of your IT organization warrants it. But don’t wait until you have a desperate need. Many IT leaders report that it takes a new writer several months to become familiar with IT terminology and to learn the culture of a new enterprise.
  • Make clear communications a priority. Take the time to make your own documents clear. Rather than relying entirely on words, use charts and tables to communicate data and clarify the point. Even if you enjoy writing, a communications specialist may be able to polish your prose, allowing you to model the behavior you want your staff to emulate.

 

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