Written communications in business should be shorter.
Everyone is familiar with the well-thought-out memo, which contains virtually all the details. Too long to read now, it gets printed for later reading.
Like that magazine article that a person comes across that is so important it has to be saved for later, when they really have the proper amount of time to devote to it.
So it sits in the stack. And other important items get added to the stack. And that critical item keeps falling lower in the stack and, ultimately, becomes neglected and fades in importance over time.
The reality is that when it comes to lengthy writing in business, longer goes later.
No one has the time to read it all now. So it gets deferred to when there is time.
And as everyone in business knows, finding the time to read lengthy writing can be challenging, at best.
In a nationwide survey of senior executives and managers that we conducted, 85 percent of those in large companies said the length of written communications they receive from their subordinates is too long. Almost half of those said it was significantly too long.
“Being clear and concise is probably the most important key to effective business writing,” said one survey respondent. “I've seen brilliant ideas from brilliant co-workers go unnoticed for no other reason than they were buried in WAY too much text, and their audience just lost interest or skipped the memo or e-mail when they saw how long it was.”
Said another: “Many emails are short but with long attachments. Emails saying, ‘Please read this,’ with a long attachment and no descriptive subject are real time-wasters.”
Brevity is key. An another executive pointed out, unless there is a very complex situation to be described, most problems or solutions can be described in a few lines.
Length of written business communications is not the only issue, as the lack of quality of writing also irks many as well.
“I notice a marked decline in the structure, grammar, syntax and overall impact of messages in written communications,” said one manager. “This applies to both subordinates and, to a lesser degree, to the C-level communicator.”
“Unfortunately, we take the written communication too lightly today,” said one manager. “Text messages, IM and brief emails have diminished our ability to share our thoughts, plans, recommendations and goals effectively. This lack of professionalism ultimately slips into other areas, lessening our effectiveness as a company.”
Perhaps part of the reason for a decrease in communication quality is the movement over the years to email, instant messaging and texting.
Another part is that in the later college years, some of the earlier learnings are forgotten or fall by the wayside.
“College students just have poorly developed writing skills,” one respondent said. “It reflects on their idea of professionalism.”
“Over the years, I have seen an increase in bad grammer [sic],” said another. “Guess kids aren't learning English like they used to.”
Many in business appreciate the value of well-written communications, because it can easily stand out.
“Being able to write is one the considerations in our hiring,” said one manager. “I do find that many people today in business cannot write or do not realize that sometimes verbal communication is a much better way to avoid miscommunication.”
The reality is that written communication is an art that can help a person along his or her career.
And when it comes to that writing, shorter is almost always better.