“Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the shadow”
T.S. Eliot 1925
So you’ve decided to tackle the frustrating and inefficient writing practices at your workplace. Well done! You already understand that poor writing costs. But as T.S. Elliot told us, desiring a new state of being is only the first step. To achieve our desired state we must act.
Show the way. Lead the change you want to see every day – mentor, reinforce, and evaluate.
Provide explicit direction; make sure your writers know exactly what you want. Can they provide you with the answers to the following questions?
1. Who is my target audience? What do they need to know? What might they already know? What information will they respond to best?
2. What are my goals? Am I informing? Persuading? Directing?
Provide constructive feedback: “I lost meaning in this section because your sentences do not have a clear subject and an active verb pattern.” Or “The final summary of your report has been written in the passive voice, please change to the active.” Or “Paragraph X is unnecessary for this audience.”
Provide quality exemplars and regularly share examples of good writing. Make it clear that the act of writing for a reader is relational. Just as readers use strategies to decipher text and meaning so must writers use strategies to infuse their text with meaning for readers.
Take your time. Building a new skill happens slowly, your writers will need space to review, evaluate, and reflect.
Create communities of practice. Pair weaker writers with stronger writers. Give weaker writers opportunities to observe the thinking and actions of stronger writers. Encourage weaker writers to emulate their stronger colleagues.
Make time for writers to peer review each other’s writing. Opportunities that allow for reflection and evaluation will deepen a writer’s understanding of effective writing and reinforce their use of effective writing strategies.
Ask yourself – is it will or skill? For very poor writers, there may be literacy and/or learning disabilities. Put in place scaffolds of support. Provide non-judgemental writing buddies to help with revising and proofreading. Provide editing services or one on one coaching. Invest in I.T. solutions; there are many excellent speech to text apps available online.
Create opportunities for change. Our actions will always speak louder than our words.
Provide training opportunities:
1. Make sure you know your writers’ needs first. Ensure any instruction is going to meet the specific needs of your writers. One size does not fit all.
2. After training follow up with mini clinics, one on one coaching opportunities and team peer review sessions. Your writers will need multiple opportunities to reinforce their new skills and behaviours before they become automatic.
Keep in mind that learning a new skill is risky, there’s always the chance we might fail. Give your writers opportunities to embed, trial, and take risks without fear of ridicule.
Provide fortnightly, monthly or quarterly writing clinics. Highlight that all effective writers have strategies that support them through the writing process. They: define their audience, organise their ideas, gather information, research, analyse, draft, revise and edit.
Create a quarterly newsletter or email that shares examples of quality writing at your place. Highlight those writers who have improved and/or excelled recently. Include writing tips and strategies. Circulate online links to teaching and coaching websites.