Crappy writing in the workplace: Your worst roommate ever is shadowing you.

Updated: Apr 27

He’s the worst roommate you ever had. He leaves dishes in the sink and never vacuums. He has to be asked five times to square up on his share of each month’s utility bill. He spills bong water on the carpet.

And he’s started following you to work.

How often do you have to go through the toothache of a seven-part email chain because a colleague doesn’t take the time to proofread his or her own email? The lack of effort or ability requires you to request clarification, puzzle over the response, repeat and occasionally turn to outside help. What does that feel like? To me, it feels like I’m wiping someone else’s coagulated spaghetti sauce off the counter.

When was the last time you read an email, instruction manual or blog and thought, “What the hell am I supposed to make of this?” Probably within the last month.

The knock on effects of crappy writing have been compounded a hundredfold in the last couple decades due to the lack of effort needed to “communicate” across departments, time zones and between companies. Consider the amount of time you’ve personally wasted in the last week reading needlessly long (or outright unnecessary) documents and emails, proofreading a team member’s work to save you from looking stupid, or deliberating on how to respond to a condescending email. Now consider the total economic impact of millions of other professionals doing the same thing.

According to College Board, U.S. corporations spend $3.1 billion dollar a year on writing remediation services. Considering that bad writing costs U.S. companies four hundred billion dollars a year, it should be much larger.

Busted: Leaving his dishes in the sink for you to clean.

Not everybody is Garvington, but everybody can be respectful of one another’s limited time and attention. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Briefly proofread your own emails if they involve anything of substance. This benefits you as well as the recipient.
  2. Before sending any email longer than 150 words, shorten it by at least one sentence.
  3. Default to “high-touch” communication by picking up the phone or having a face-to-face chat if it’s a delicate or complex topic.
  4. Use Grammarly. Do I even need to say this? I’m a professional writer and I still don’t feel comfortable sending an email without it.
  5. Even if you are the worst roommate ever (Hi Chris!), remember: The extra up-front effort required to write a polite, clearly-stated email saves you time.

Tell people what they need to know in simple, respectful language. If people respond to your emails with #TLDR (too long, didn’t read) or you have to keep repeating yourself, consider asking someone you trust to critique your writing.

Don’t make other people clean up your spilled bong water.
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Is poor writing costing your company money? Could sharpening your own writing skills open up more opportunities? Contact me for a free, 15-minute phone consultation or stay posted for more free tips.

Posted on: April 24, 2018