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December 11, 2019


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Carie Wingert

Thank you so much for this. I started working for my current employer a year ago and lack of coaching is a huge problem. The lead of the group has staff sitting and watching him type edits into a report so they can see how they do it. That just doesn't work. Getting the junior staff to take ownership of their work is a nightmare because the way the group operates is exactly as you describe above: they write poorly (they don't even do spell check!), submit for senior review, and the senior reviewer just fixes it.

I have myself had reviewers want me to change sentences simply so it sounds like they wrote but without actually changing the meaning. I work hard to avoid doing that myself when I'm reviewing someone else's work.

These are some of my methods for reviewing:
- If I start seeing the same spelling/grammar/punctuation error, I'll highlight a few examples and ask them to fix throughout. I won't go through and find all of the errors for them.
- I go into a fair amount of detail in my comments providing context and background to back up my comment. I focus on the 'why' in order to help them figure out the 'what.' What I really want is for them to engage their critical thinking skills rather than just wait to be told to what to write/do.
- I ask questions about why they wrote something the way they did, often pointing out where their train of logic isn't quite aligning at different locations in the document (without explicitly providing the answers).
- I ask them if they feel the document is ready for delivery to the client.

With respect to having enough time, it is necessary to make the time, but I also find that the problem stems from a lack of time management, which creates a situation where everything is a fire drill and reports are always going out the door at the last minute. No one can do their best work under those circumstances.

Allison Horak

Hi, Carie. Thanks for your comment. I enjoyed hearing your strategies for better editing. I especially like your advice to ask questions of your employees about their motivation for writing something in a particular way. That can reveal their thought processes (critical thinking, as you mentioned) or whether they really didn't make a conscious decision to choose a certain word over another, for example. Those conversations can lead to teaching moments---and possibly can sway us to see things their way.

Business Writing Blog

Thanks for the great post, Allison. I appreciate the specific advice you shared.

Sometimes an employee needs more work than a manager or supervisor has time for. That's when a training program makes sense. I'd like to suggest my online, self-study courses at https://courses.syntaxtraining.com. They include Business Writing Tune-Up, Punctuation for Professionals, Meeting Notes Made Easy, and Proofread Like a Pro. Each course has a free introductory demo.

Again, thank you for sharing your expertise!


Melissa Asher

Thanks Allison! Time is usually the enemy in these situation, so I appreciate you pointing out that by making some time now to coach, we stand to gain a whole lot of time on future assignments. Plus it is a great feeling to help someone else develop new skills!

Allison Horak

Thank you for sharing your experience, Melissa! I have found contributing to the professional development of someone is definitely a benefit to this coaching approach and helps create loyal employees.

Janet B

Great suggestions! Thank you, Allison.

Bryan Byrd

Good stuff Allison. When I edit documents with my team, I use track changes, and always include a Comment that explains my reasons for suggesting a change. It allows the writer to respond in Comments as well and lets us have a dialogue that we might not otherwise have time to schedule.

Allison Horak

Thank you, Bryan, for suggesting the use of the comment feature in MS Word's track changes when there may not be time for a coaching conversation. Rather than unilaterally making changes to a document, explaining the reason why, using a comment box, can also be an effective way of teaching.

Antoinette Joy

I really like your perspective and suggestions for coaching. If we want our employees to contribute at their highest level it is our responsibility as leaders to set them up for success. The additional benefits will be engaged, committed, and productive employees!

Allison Horak

Thank you, Antoinette! I appreciate you sharing your perspective.

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