Whenever he conducts a business writing workshop, our trainer asks participants what proportion of their workday is spent writing (e.g. emails, reports and presentations). The answer is usually somewhere between 50 and 75 per cent. He then asks how many participants have been provided with formal training in writing as part of their work. Sometimes a few hands go up, but often there are none.
I also spend the majority of most workdays writing or editing. I have had formal training in this area, and this is what I do for a living. I use courses, workshops and conferences to learn new skills and ensure that my practices are current. But given writing is such an important part of most occupations, why is it so often ignored when it comes to professional development?
I suspect one reason is that it’s assumed we develop our writing skills at school (and university). On-the-job training might cover everything from occupational health and safety to how to resolve conflict in the workplace, but we are expected to arrive in our role with a perfectly formed ability to produce content for a range of purposes and audiences in the house style of our employer.
Like most skills, the ability to write tends to improve with practice. It also improves by applying known techniques, drawing on best case examples, and reviewing and reflecting upon current practices – all things that are generally part of a formal writing training course.
I suspect another reason is that many employers simply don’t place sufficient value on the ability to write clearly and effectively. But they should. As we noted in a previous post on the hidden cost of poor communication, bad writing costs money.
As a professional writer and editor, it’s probably no surprise that I champion the importance of these skills in the workplace. If organisations only reflected on how much time their employees spend each day performing these activities, and how much time (and money) is lost when they do it badly, they might just come around to my way of thinking.