We’ve all heard it. We all believe it in our hearts. Good writing adds value.
But maybe you still don’t have a ready answer when someone says Prove it!
Here’s something for you: Marcia Riefer Johnston’s weekly Tighten This! game. (If you’re not already playing , you should be. In fact, why don’t you go over there right now, and then come back. I’ll wait.)
Each week Marcia supplies a challenge sentence that’s bloated with hot air and/or gobbledygook. The sentences are real, coming from corporate or governmental communications. Many of them are contributed by the game’s participants; Marcia finds the rest herself.
Players are asked to “tighten” the challenge sentence into something less wordy and more lucid. After the judges — Marcia, her husband Ray Johnston, and me — select a winner, Marcia compares the winning entry with the original sentence and calculates a cost savings based on translating the content into 25 languages at 25 cents a word, times 10,000 sentences (about the length of a Harry Potter novel, or a set of hardware setup guides).
In half a year, using Marcia’s formula, the Tighten This! writers have cut bloat to the tune of $29,812,500.
Nearly $30 million in savings, just by turning bad writing into good. That’s value!
Last week’s game brought one of the most dramatic examples of adding value. The winning entry trimmed a sentence from 51 words to 6:
The line manager or a mentor should be allocated to each new employee to act as a guide and counsellor during the induction process so that new members of staff learn about the company and are given the necessary support and opportunity to put their learning into practice in the workplace.
Assign each new employee a mentor.
That’s fine, you might be saying. But my stuff isn’t translated into 25 languages. In fact, it’s not translated at all.
That’s OK. There are other ways in which good writing adds value.
Sarah O’Keefe’s and Alan Pringle’s Content Strategy 101 contains several sample case studies that demonstrate how good content can support both sides of a business case — cost savings and revenue enhancement — through things like reduced support calls to increased sales. I encourage you to buy the book: you’ll find it to be good value for your money.
So, yes, you can prove that good writing adds value. And adding value is what technical communication is all about.
Cam you share other case studies — especially ones in which you were personally involved — to show that good writing adds value?