Are internal processes bogging down your communications? Are they turning strong pieces of writing into spineless, whimpering jumbles of words? I’ve been there. I’ve seen what can happen when good writing meets bad editing. My team or agency would craft a strong document that hit on key messaging, was pithy, insightful and would surely meet the needs of editors at newspaper and trade journals alike. Then, the inevitable happened.
The approval process.
The piece was routed through managers, human resources, engineers, attorneys and the executive team – it seemed nearly every department got in on the approval process. Suddenly, everyone became an expert on writing and the document was redlined to death. By the time the piece returned to me, it hardly looked the same as when I first routed it.
As the originator of a corporate communications document (or any role in marketing or advertising), you need thick skin. If you don’t have it, you’ll probably throw away your favorite Bic gel pen and give up communications forever after receiving one of those redlined documents.
I am appreciative when a correct edit is made*. It’s the “let’s make a change for change’s sake” edits that irritate me. However, as I would remind myself and my team, just because the head engineer thinks a comma splice is a good thing or the human resources manager thinks mixing past and present verb tenses is acceptable doesn’t mean those edits are right or should be accepted.
I always encourage my staff to defend what is right about writing. As the Communications team, we are the ones who know these things – that’s what we’re hired to do. So, when an incorrect edit comes through the door, my team should dialogue with the person who made the erroneous change. Help him or her understand why we write “to complain often” rather than “to often complain.” Yes, we’re prejudiced against split infinitives and prefer not to use them. Helping people understand the rules of good grammar also helps reduce bad edits.
In the May-June 2012 issue of Communication World, Steve Crescenzo (@crescenzo) penned an article “Writers, go forth and sin no more.” He focused on the first three of seven deadly sins of organizational writing, encouraging communicators (who have to deal with corporate politics and approval processes) to keep up good writing. He provided rationale and help for those who commit these errors on a regular basis. It’s a strong article with good advice. He recommends presenting the strongest piece, quote, content, etc., to the audience whether that is the Intranet, a community newspaper or a communication with an editor.
Sometimes in the corporate world, knowing how to write is only half the battle. Being able to defend good writing and content is the other. Keep up the good work. Keep challenging yourself and your team to produce solid work. And God speed as you make your way through the approval process.
* I would like to note I worked with a General Counsel at a Fortune 500 company who provided tremendously helpful edits. For a lawyer, he was actually a good writer!