Stop Paying the $400B ‘Poor Writing Tax’

Bad writing costs American businesses $396 billion a year.

You read that right. Companies waste 6% of total wages on employees struggling to understand poorly written material, says Josh Bernoff, business communications expert.

Bernoff calls this profit drain the “poor writing tax.”

You lose a sale because a potential client clicks past company website jargon that obscures your value…tax penalty.

A colleague misconstrues the meaning of an unclear email…tax penalty.

A challenge sets you back because a report buried the issue in meandering paragraphs…well, you get the idea.

Why do poorly worded documents add up to such a hefty burden? Because professionals spend 22% of their work time reading, according to Bernoff. High earners read even more on the job.

Did you realize that so much of your success rides on how well your team members get their points across in writing?

Clear communication is a strategic imperative. For the sake of your organization’s prosperity and mission, employees need to learn to say what they mean to each other…and to customers, vendors, and partners.

Time for Some Tax Relief

Training people to write better makes solid business sense. But before you tackle the poor writing tax, consider this:

Corporations already spend $3 billion a year on remedial writing training, according to a survey of Business Roundtable members. Meanwhile, the “people can’t write” problem persists.

Here are three steps to help you get your money’s worth from training and set up your team for success:

1. Make good writing a tenet of your company culture.

Support from management is vital if clear, concise writing is to take root in your organization. People need a “why?” in order to change habits.

Good writing takes focus and practice. What’s the point of all that effort if there’s no reward? When leaders hold up effective written communication as the standard and a prerequisite for success, suddenly employees have a compelling why.

2. Make written communication part of your permanent training strategy.

You wouldn’t expect the software training that your employees took a couple of years ago to be relevant for a couple more. The same goes for your writing training.

  • Technology and trends change the way people get their information. For example, at the dawn of the decade, few people were evangelizing about “writing for mobile.” Now you need to be read on smartphones and tablets.
  • Readability is a science and writing conventions change with new discoveries. People don’t read a printed page the same way they do a laptop screen or mobile device. If you want to reach your audience where and how they read, you’ve gotta keep up.
  • You’ll always be hiring new employees. They need to know what your company considers “good writing.”

You can’t evade the poor writing tax with a once-and-done burst of training.

3. Choose training that is customized for your organization’s needs.

One size does not fit all when it comes to a writing workshop.

Research scientists don’t write about the same subjects for the same audiences as financial planners do. Government contractors speak a different language than entertainment marketeers.

Yes, there are writing basics that apply across the board, but there are also specific challenges that keep your staff from being clear communicators. People pay more attention when they engage with the kind of real-life writing they face on the job.

Isn’t it time to exempt your business from the poor writing tax and boost your team’s communications skills?

Further Reading:

Josh Bernoff’s The State of Business Writing

The Writing Project’s Writing: A Ticket to Work…Or a Ticket Out

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Stop Paying the $400B ‘Poor Writing Tax’ — 1 Comment

  1. Wow, that’s a lot of moolah for failure to communicate! It’s also a sobering reminder of the value of reaching the desired audience with your intended message. As you say later, “it’s about them, not you.” And yes, training people to write better makes solid business sense. I’ve seen that tenet in action, and I’ve seen the value of this “7 Steps” training in helping to change people’s writing habits to become more productive and effective. When you delivered this training to my NIH coworkers, the effect was immediate and palpable–you could literally see expressions of self-realization on their faces as the discussion and particularly the hands-on exercises helped them understand their writing “pitfalls” and learn simple ways to avoid them. Keep up the good work–we need this now more than ever!

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