How to encourage your staff to write better

ColleaguesHere are some tips about getting better writing out of people you work with.

  • Test writing ability when recruiting. When recruiting staff, make sure they can write. Make it an explicit part of the person spec. Give them some exercises to do before or during the interview process. It isn’t enough to check if their CV is well-written (although if they can’t get that right, definitely don’t hire them).
  1. Give them a technical document to precis.
  2. Ask them to write a review of the last book they read.
  3. Give them some copy and ask them to edit it.
  • Give people good, clear briefs for writing assignments. Every successful piece of copy starts with a good brief. Ask yourself:
  1. Who is the audience?
  2. What is the objective?
  3. What are the parameters: deadline, word count, format etc.?
  4. What style guidelines apply?
  5. What is the approval process?
  6. What resources are already available? Don’t reinvent the wheel.
  • Feedback is critical – it’s the Barbara Woodhouse method of editing. Train the owner not the dog. Even if the piece is spot on, give some praise and be specific about what you liked. If it is not, be as specific as you can about what is wrong.
  • Use a proofreader. I am a professional writer and I use a proofreader. Every magazine and newspaper has desks full of subeditors and fact-checkers. Why? Checking your own work is impossible – you get word-blind. You can use a professional proofreader or you can find a detail-obsessed colleague to do this. This is not about editing for style. It’s punctuation, spelling, grammar and so on.
  • Resist committee writing. Assess your own writing skills and those of your team and allocate jobs and roles accordingly. Everyone can write but not everyone is a writer. Separate the roles of editing, proofreading, subediting and writing.

3 Responses to How to encourage your staff to write better

  1. Steve Barry June 27, 2007 at 7:35 am #

    Use a proofreader. Best advice ever. I am a music producer. A record label would never release a final mix until a professional Mastering Engineer “mastered” the mix. This means listening to the mix in a seperate room with the proper equipment while a seasoned expert makes critical adjustments to the recording in order for the song to sound great on the radio. I wish other industries put this wisdom to use. Such as surgeons, auto mechanics, heads of state. Seriously, professional oversight and quality control is key.

  2. Jon Pashley April 16, 2010 at 7:38 am #

    I’m really enjoying burrowing through the archives – loads of great advice. I think this may be a drafting error: “6. What resources are available already available?”

    If it’s not, I just don’t understand it.

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