Business Writing

Talk, tips, and best picks for writers on the job.

Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

June 24, 2016

Don't Work so Hard on Your Writing

As a careful writer and professional, I have sometimes spent too much time fussing with a piece of writing when I didn't need to. Recently I spent several hours on a proposal, when a brief conversation would have told me the client wasn't serious about moving forward.

In classes, I often witness employees and managers working too hard on a document or an email, when there is an easier way to handle the communication. 

Do you work too hard on your writing? Do you find yourself struggling over details, only to find they weren't worth your time? Consider these don'ts, which may help you save time and effort:

  1. Don't spend time and energy worrying about the content of a sensitive message--a message, for example, to say no, to give constructive feedback, or to respond to an internal complaint. Instead of writing, call the individual or meet in person to talk through the issue. Then write--or better yet, have the other person write--a summary of the conversation. Having dealt with the emotional aspect of the communication, you will probably find the follow-up message easy. 

  2. Don't go into great detail in response to an individual's written question. Instead, consider that the question may be much simpler than you imagine. A detailed response that covers every aspect of a question can waste your time and the other person's. Why not provide a thoughtful but brief response? You can end it this way: "If you need more details, please let me know. I'll be happy to provide them."

    Or make a phone call before responding to be sure you understand how much information the other person wants. A quick call may meet everybody's needs. 

  3. Don't cover every possible aspect of a complex topic in an email. For example, if you are arranging a visit to your job site, cover the basics such as place, date and time, contact to meet, required safety gear, etc. But don't cover unlikely issues such as what to do if there is bad weather, the highway is under construction, the company contact is out sick, etc. You can manage those things if they happen, but to include them from the outset is too much work for you--and for your reader.

  4. Don't automatically write responses to recommendations, proposals, etc., which can take a lot of careful thought, time, and energy. Instead, meet in person or by phone with the writers to discuss your feedback. Then write a summary of the discussion, or ask the other person to write it. 

  5. Don't stress over writing a message to all employees when only one or two individuals need to receive it. For example, if two team members leave their desks a mess, causing a concern about bug infestations, don't spend an hour composing a careful memo for the entire team. Take the individuals aside and address your concern directly and quickly. 

  6. Don't make a document bigger than it should be. For instance, don't think that a cover letter will get you a job, therefore putting every positive aspect of your life in it. A cover letter should get you a screening interview--not a job--so only include enough enticing information to achieve that smaller goal. Don't make a mountain out of a small bump in the road. 

  7. Don't write everything that was said at a meeting in your meeting notes. That's too much work, and few people will read lengthy minutes. Instead, include only topics, decisions, action items, and key points. If you are not sure whether a point is worth including, ask attendees if appropriate. (To find out how to make note taking easier, take my online class Meeting Notes Made Easy on August 9.) 

Have you spent too much time and anxiety writing? Which don'ts have you learned? Please share your lessons. 

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