An eNewsletter Dedicated to Helping Business people Write Smarter and Faster in Plain Language
Technical Writers Can Help Create, Not Just Document, a Company’s Products
In his article, “Revaluing Writing,” in the online Harvard Business Review, Jack Shulman makes a good point: because writers are good communicators and can offer an objective, outsider’s view of the pros and cons of a new product, they should be involved in all phases of a product’s design and development. Here’s his article (edited for space):
Companies spend whatever it takes to develop intellectual assets. At the same time, they routinely seek to minimize their investment in the technical documents that tell people how to use those assets. Many companies view the creation of this information as, at best, a cost of doing business and, at worst, something they can safely ignore.
Good writers can change all that. What’s more, good writers who are consulted early enough can improve the product development process and, potentially, products themselves.
Writers get caught in the middle.
Unfortunately, writers in many companies don’t get that chance. Brought in at the end of the development cycle, they are expected only to take what the project team says is important and turn it into English. When this happens, the writers may become caught in a squeeze play between the engineering and marketing groups: The engineers are unavailable, having built little or no time into their schedules for tedious meetings with people whom they believe think only in adjectives and verbs, not specs and functions. And the marketing folks are losing patience, having been slowly going mad for months, waiting to find out what they are expected to sell and unable to understand why it takes so long to get facts on a product that is nearly complete. In a multinational, multilingual corporation, the burden of translation and localization compounds this problem.
Developers are too close to the project.
In addition, the writer’s act of mastering a product’s or a process’s complexities and then distilling those into simple, clear language for a lay (or expert) reader sometimes reveals flaws, contradictions, or unfulfilled product promises that developers are too close to the project to see. Questions from smart and skillful writers can cause engineers to reconsider a product design element after it has been finalized. When writers are brought in late, the result can be slipped manufacturing and shipping dates, cost overruns, and delayed or lost revenue.
Companies that want to reverse this dynamic and use their writers as a strategic asset can take the following steps:
Involve writers early.
It takes time to understand a product, process, or technology well enough to effectively explain it. Early involvement gives writers a realistic chance of delivering complete and accurate information at launch. The marketing department and your customers will be pleased.
Make use of writer “audits.”
Ensure that writers have sufficient time to question the development team as the product evolves. Ideally, and perhaps uniquely, writers can perform continuous reality testing on the product or process, comparing what the team tells them about it and their own experiences with it. Products and processes are often modified and even redesigned based on discoveries by writers in their quest for the facts.
Use writers to compound the value of your intellectual capital.
The best writers aren’t just adept at technical or business language; they are also expert communicators. Much of a company’s intellectual capital resides in the brains of people who have difficulty making their ideas accessible outside their narrow disciplines or who simply don’t recognize that something they know may be useful or important. Writers can elicit that information, provide it in exactly the language and structure required by each audience, and, in the process, preserve and enhance the value of your intellectual capital to your customers, suppliers, and employees.
The written word and the writing process itself are powerful tools that can have a real, strategic impact on your business. Give your writers the opportunity not just to document but also to help create.
- Richard Cadbury introduced the first box of Valentine’s Day chocolates in 1868.
- More than 144 million cards are exchanged on Valentine’s Day in the U.S. alone.
- A 2017 study showed that 43% of millennials chose Valentine’s Day as their preferred day to propose or be proposed to.
- Lace is often used on Valentine decorations. The word lace comes from the Latin laques, meaning “to snare or net,” as in to catch a person’s heart.
- In the Middle Ages, the use of “X” came to represent the Christian cross. During the same time, the symbol was used to sign off on documents. After marking with an X, the writer would often kiss the mark as a sign of their oath. Over time, these records were described as having been “sealed with a kiss.”
- Every year, thousands of romantics send letters addressed to “Juliet” in Verona, Italy, the city where Shakespeare set his romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. The letters that reach the city are answered by a team of volunteers from the Juliet Club.
- The first valentine was written in a: cathedral, prison, stable, palace?
(Fun Facts Answer: Scroll to the bottom.)
Word of the Month
liaison | lee-A-zon | noun
• communication or cooperation that facilitates a close working relationship between people or organizations; a person who acts as a link to assist the communication or cooperation
“Keith volunteered to act as liaison between the sales team and the financial department.”
Wacky & Wise Websites
Click here to find out what happens to the losing team’s pre-printed championship shirts.
Click here to find out why wine bottles have dents in the bottom.
American Express, Amgen, Cisco Systems, Department of the Navy, Fluor Corporation, General Electric, Motorola, The New York Public Library, Procter & Gamble, SEAL Team Six, State of Utah, Supreme Court of Virginia, United Way, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Food & Drug Administration
Writing Tips & More
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SATisfy Your Curiosity
SAT Exam practice question: Choose the word that, when inserted in the sentence, best fits the meaning of the sentence as a whole.
“Very few adults boast that no one can understand a word they say, but quite a few seem proud of _____ handwriting.”
(SAT Answer: Scroll to the bottom.)
The phrase, wear my heart upon my sleeve has three possible origins, though all three could have built one upon the other over the centuries.
1. The Emperor Claudius II, ca 250 AD, believed unattached men made better soldiers so he declared marriage illegal. As a concession, he encouraged temporary liaisons. Once a year, during a Roman festival honoring Juno, men drew names to determine who would be their lady friend for the coming year. Once established, the man would wear her name on his sleeve for the rest of the festival.
2. In the Middle Ages, when a knight performed in a jousting match in the king’s court, he’d dedicate his performance to a woman of the court. By tying something of hers, like a handkerchief, around his arm, he’d let the court know the jousting match would defend the honor of that woman.
3. In 1603, Shakespeare had his character Iago, in the play Othello, say, “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at. I am not what I am.”
Fun Facts Answer
History’s first valentine was written in one of the most unromantic places conceivable: a prison. Charles, Duke of Orleans, wrote the love letter to his second wife at the age of 21 while in captivity after the Battle of Agincourt. As a prisoner for more than 20 years, he would never see his valentine’s reaction to the poem he penned to her in the early 15th century.