Is Business Writing A Lost Art?

I recently wrote about a new paradox I’ve seen related to two seemingly opposite management movements—working out loud and being invisible.  It was great to see Author and Blogger John Stepper chime in on the topic in his weekly blog.

Another paradox I’ve been thinking about involves a movement away from true business writing–the thoughtful, structured, and logical use of writing for purposes of issue framing and problem solving to more unstructured “social” writing and communication.  Just look at how your kids are writing on their devices!

So what?, you might be thinking.

Believers in the art of business writing argue:

  • Writing helps ensure that the original message is correctly translated by the audience
  • Writing encourages a thoughtful structure to build a bridge from the audiences initial point of view to the desired conclusion
  • Writing helps create a context for what the topic is, allows you to focus on the true problem, and drive to the right recommendation/answer

It might be obvious, but good business writing takes time.  And, it takes sweat equity.  In contrast, we spend much of our time quickly responding to many more things more than ever before.  Forcing ourselves to think through–and write down–our thoughts needs our personal commitment.

Often times, people cite ambiguity as a necessary evil; however, I’ve sometimes found that the reasons for ambiguity lie in the lack of time taken to critically think and frame up the issue at hand.  Ambiguity becomes a good excuse for not investing in the sweat equity needed to lay out, explain, and recommend a solution to a complex problem.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, but I’m coaching many to work on their skills as communicators, around these core pillars:

  • What is the situation? These are the facts, an overview of the status quo, or a high level of understanding of what is going on.
  • What is the complication? This is where to realize an opportunity, or to overcome obstacles
  • What is the core question? This helps you to understand “what to do”
  • What is the answer? Can it be quantified?  This is also known as the recommendation

These pillars have been gathered over the course of my career from many sources, from consulting to 6Sigma tools.  I find them interestingly relevant years later, which typically tells me they are “keepers”.  I hope they can help you as well!

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2 thoughts on “Is Business Writing A Lost Art?

  1. Andy Nelson

    Great observations, Omar. Writing itself I agree is at risk of becoming a lost art, especially in the realm of business. I would love to see you walk through a recent example of your Situation. Complication, Core Question, and Answer / Recommendation model, to drive home your points even more vividly.

    Reply
  2. Nathan J. Benn

    I would say writing, and also conversations, are becoming a lost art in this iPhone generation. I don’t know what we can do about it other than raise our kids right and teach them manners. I hope to Christ Lena’s first word isn’t “iPad”.

    Reply

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