Mark Twain is credited with the following: “If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today. If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare.”
And so it is with writing. If you want me to prepare a document quickly and don’t care how long it is, I’ll have something in your in-box in a short time. But if you want me to develop a written piece that is logical, convincing, short and to the point, you had better give me several hours.
Why is that? Let me try to explain using a recent experience that I had when using my new Dragon® Naturally Speaking voice recognition software. I do not type well, and if I want to dash out quick blog post, Dragon® is very effective – at getting the main ideas down in writing. But here’s the catch: when I proof the article that I have just spoken, I find that I have left out salient points, or the logic flow is poor. Editing the article still takes time.
You see, we’re trained as oral speakers to get our ideas out succinctly, and then clarify as required when the listener asks questions. That’s called a conversation. But when we’re developing a one-way, written conversation with our readers, it requires more care to provide the context, to develop thoughts in a logical order, and to add the requisite detail. My first draft with Dragon® typically has good content; but it is the editing that rearranges the thoughts and adds the connections to gain the reader’s understanding.
In today’s world of texting and tweeting in short bursts of poorly formed constructs, tortured mnemonics, and auto-corrections, much business writing reads like my Dragon® dictations – good content poorly presented. And that’s where it stays – as good content poorly presented.
Among IT consultants and project team members (my primary audience for these posts) good writing skills are in high demand. Technical staff with excellent writing skills excel in their careers. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that IT professionals, especially more junior staff, often do not possess these skills. Why is that? My belief is that many firms are primarily looking for people with solid technical skills, and pay less attention to soft skills such as writing. They feel the soft skills will develop as staff gains experience.
Herein lies the challenge for the young IT professional. Writing is hard work. The ability to synthesize ideas concisely, logically, and convincingly in writing requires years of practice. The ability to do so while unlearning some of the shortcuts of the 100-character text (LOL) requires additional discipline. But for the sake of one’s career, it is well worth. As Mark Twain intimated, it takes time – a lot of time – to communicate well.
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