I once had a friend staying with me, and she was worried about a small decision my daughter made. She later told me how stressful the visit was, because of that one thing.
Let me explain a bit more (while still respecting the privacy of both my friend and my daughter).
The one thing.
My daughter’s behaviour didn’t harm anyone.
It didn’t inconvenience anyone.
It was not made or carried out in anyone’s presence.
It didn’t impact on my friend’s ability to do anything.
It didn’t create any consequences my friend had to live with.
I was 100% unconcerned with the decision my daughter had made. It didn’t inconvenience or worry me. It was completely fine by me.
So when my friend later told me how stressful it was for her, and how it impacted on her ability to enjoy staying with us, I was blown away!
It wasn’t hers.
She didn’t own it. She CHOSE to be concerned. She CHOSE to be worried about the decision my daughter made. I was incredibly surprised that my friend didn’t have the self-awareness to realise she was feeling stressed about something that she simply didn’t own.
How do I deal?
One of my go-to responses to stress is to write a list – itemise the things on my mind (which is where stress lives, of course).
And then I categorise:
- what’s mine?
- what’s not mine?
I look at the what’s not mine category and often that’s all I need to do – acknowledge I’m carrying stress about things that aren’t mine and that I can’t influence.
That simple awareness (and the fact I’ve written it down and acknowledged it) is usually all it takes for me to let something go.
I basically roll my eyes at myself and go, well duh, that’s not mine. I cross it off the list and it’s gone.
I know. Sometimes it’s not that easy!
If it’s not that easy to do, then I think about what meaning I’m attributing to that thing that’s not mine, and see what I can shift there.
Sometimes it’s just a shift I need to make in my thinking. Other times I might need to act so that I can cope with the things that are not mine, but that are impacting on me nevertheless.
Then I look at the what’s mine category and plan out what I can do about it and when, and what I need so I can action that.
Stress management 101 (according to Shelly).
#SorryNotSorry but there’s no such thing as how to write a report.
Like there is one kind of report and there’s one right way to write one.
Meeehhh! Wrong. But thanks for playing.
There are endless kinds of reports
- status reports
- research reports
- analysis reports
- financial reports (hundreds of kinds)
- investigation reports
- incident reports
- audit reports
See what I mean? You’re not asking the right question.
How to write a report isn’t the right question.
You need to be asking how to write THIS report.
Every single report needs to be written in a way that’s fit for its own purpose. So there’s a set of questions to ask so you can build a report that will achieve what it needs to.
- How’s this report going to be used?
- Who’s going to use it?
- Therefore, what sections does the report need?
- And lastly, what level of detail do those people need in each of those sections, so they can use the report for their purposes?
Now you’re on the right track
If you can answer those questions, you have a plan. Once you have a plan, you can write the pieces that are easiest first, and work your way from there. Lots of reports should have an executive summary (pretty much any report that’s 2 pages or longer needs one), and you can write that last.
They can be big beasties, but they are certainly manageable. And there’s definitely NOT one right way to write a report. Please stop asking!
Being wordy is only good if you’re a dictionary.
If there’s one thing we know about text, it’s that messages get weaker as the word count grows. But, flick our writer switch, and what happens? The more concerned we are with getting our point across, the more words we use!
We’re worried people won’t get it. We’re worried they might miss something. So we say the same thing over and over again, in slightly different ways, trying to cover all our bases. All the “just in case”s. Every eventuality.
You know what that gets us? Really badly written legalese.
Brief = strong
The best business writing is stripped back to just what’s needed to make your points and achieve your outcomes.
So how do we strip our writing back, but still be comprehensive enough to get the job done? Here are a few quick approaches.
Strip out fluffy, wordy phrases
It’s easy, when we’re trying to put our most professional foot forward, to take on an unnaturally wordy voice. Because we want to be taken seriously, we try to sound a bit more formal. Resist!
|to||in order to|
|can||be able to|
|because||as a consequence of|
|consider||give consideration to|
Write less formally and more conversationally
We think a conversational voice is waffly, and that’s true in one respect – we speak in very long, run-on sentences with lots of “and”s.
But if we use conversational to mean the active voice and everyday words, that will be less wordy than a traditional formal voice.
Use headings and bullets
A well-written heading speaks directly to your reader. It engages them. The following approach forces you to think first, write second, and do that in a very focused way.
- Separate your thinking into key points
- Turn those into statement headings
- Then list supporting info as bullet lists beneath them
And no, before you ask, I’m not suggesting that you then flesh out each of those bullets into a paragraph. The bullets are enough! Use them as often as you can (but keep each list short – no more than 7 bullets).
Stay concise and outcomes focused and your business readers will love you for it!
So I’m guessing you’re here because either
- you LOVE plain language and want to convince someone at work that it’s worth investing in, or
- you’ve heard about this plain language thing but you’re not yet sure you buy into it
Either way, I can help you out. So let’s dive into this.
Plain language (or plain English) saves money. It’s a simple fact. Plain language means your business will
- save time (don’t just skip over that – it’s the most significant financial benefit)
- improve customer experience and reduce queries
- increase compliance and reduce risk
- increase brand trust and credibility
Want more detail? Duh, I know that. THAT was just the intro – the high-level overview. Which, by the way, is a handy plain language approach to structuring documents.
Like how I did that? Now enough chit chat. Here’s what you came for.
Plain language saves time, which saves money. Piles of it. Sometimes great whopping mountains of it.
Save time reading
Joseph Kimble reports a US study using a Marine Radio Regulation. They gave people 1 of 2 versions of the regulation: the original or a plain language rewrite. Then they asked questions, and the readers had to find the answers in the document. The time to read, process, and answer the questions was almost halved – from 3 ½ minutes per question with the original, to less than 2 minutes per question with the plain language version.
How many minutes a day do your staff spend reading regulations, standards, policies, procedures and other indecipherable stuff? Just imagine how much time they could save.
Save writing time
In my trainings, I help people reconnect with our natural ways of expressing ideas – basically, the way we speak. When we write that like that we let go of so many worries and conventions and constructs that slow us down. It’s just faster! And the Plain English Campaign in the UK agrees.
Plain language improves CX and reduces customer queries, complaints, and all those fun games of email ping pong
- The US Federal Communications Commission once needed five fulltime staff members to field all the phone calls and queries about its rules for Citizen Band Radios. Putting the regulations into plain English freed all five staff members to, well, get other shit done.
- The Canadian government reports that when they rewrote their Certificate to Register Livestock, the compliance rate soared from a miserable 40% (imagine how much time THAT wasted) to 95%. That’s huge!
- The Arizona Department of Revenue reported they received 18 000 fewer phone calls the year after they started using plain language letters.
Plain language makes your brand more trustworthy and easier to feel personally connected to. And that, my savvy business friends, will make you money.
- If you think about the brands you love, you’ll see they speak to you like a human. No formality, no waffle, no fluff. Microsoft’s stated position on this is beautiful. Why wouldn’t the same apply to your company?
- This Siegel and Gale study is just one of many that prove how readers trust information they can easily understand. Did you hear that? CLEAR AND SIMPLE = TRUSTWORTHY.
- I’m sorry to say it, but Trump’s use of plain language is one of the reasons people voted for him. (Use your #PlainLanguage powers for good, people.)
Work it out – how much can you save using plain language?
The UK’s Plain Language Commission recommends this calculation to estimate how much money your business can save through using plain language:
Work out the number of sheets of paper, e-mails and faxes in your organization produces in one working day. Estimate the cost of each of these documents at $10 a page. Now calculate by the number of people who have to read them and add $1 for each person reading each document. (To give you an idea of this figure, a typical office worker receives over 100 messages a day). That will give you rough idea of the cost of your paperwork for each day. Then multiply the figure by 240 to find out a realistic cost of paperwork in your organization every year.
The Commission says that plain language will cut this bill by 30 percent.
So the question is, really, can you afford NOT to invest in upskilling your people and embedding beautiful, crisp, clear plain language communication strategies throughout every inch of your business? I think not. I know someone who can help you with that …