Let’s be honest: Writing in the corporate world is terrible. It’s full of poor grammar, verbose passages, incomprehensible wording and undefined acronyms. That bad writing destroys productivity as employees waste time trying to understand reports and misinterpret instructions.
Public relations teams can improve that situation, not with another red-lined review, but by creating writing centers where they can help others in the organization improve their writing skills. With their strong backgrounds in writing and storytelling, PR pros are well-suited to manage writing centers.
PR would also benefit. PR would gain greater recognition throughout the organization, a chance to improve relationships with other departments, and better understanding of the organization’s inner workings. In working with individuals in other departments, PR may also uncover interesting stories for corporate communications.
Writing Help for Bank Examiners
Harvard Business Review describes how a writing center helped bank examiners at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia dramatically improve their writing.
Many staff members collaborated on reports, some 40 pages long, that went through several reviews, says HBR contributor Josh Bernoff, an author on business writing and strategy. The writing and review process sometimes lost or muddled important points.
The bank hired Jessica Weber, former assistant director of the writing center at Salisbury University, as writing coach to improve examiners’ writing. She established a writing center. Writing centers often help college and university students improve a specific document or their overall writing skills. They are rare in corporate or regulatory world.
Despite examiners’ initial skepticism, writing at the bank improved dramatically, convincing the Fed to hire a second writing consultant. Weber is working on expanding the program to other Federal Reserve Banks.
Not an Editing Service
A writing center is not an editing service, says writing tutor Darla Word, who worked at a university writing center. A writing coach works one-on-one be with writers to improve their writing process rather than to fix finished papers. That enables writers to develop self-editing skills, she explains in The Benefits of Writing Centers.
Writing consultants also benefit, she says. Their verbal communication, critical thinking, and writing skills often improve enormously. Consultants have to explain why they react a certain way to an idea, explain how to strengthen thesis statements and other features of writing, and explain grammar rules. They have to question what they read to find places that need more work. In teaching others to write better, PR staff members can themselves become better writers.
Setting up an Organization-wide Writing Center
Bernoff offers these tips on establishing writing centers:
Obtain c-suite approval. Convincing leadership that bad writing is hurting productivity and that you have a solution is the critical first step.
Gather similar writers. Working with people with similar tasks allows coaches to develop a set of criteria, materials, and training methods to help them.
Make it voluntary. A voluntary program is more likely to recruit motivated individuals. Providing specific benefits will encourage others to participate.
Focus on coaching. Editorial coaching sounds more helpful than writing training. Seek to coach and edit to instruct rather than to fix errors.
Measure results. Succeeding is not enough; you have to prove you succeeded.
“If it works with bank examiners, it will work for you,” Bernoff asserts. “A writing center is an effective way to lift an organization’s writing culture by its bootstraps. That means everybody can spend less time puzzling out incomprehensible messages and more time actually getting things done.”
Bottom Line: PR teams can improve writing skills within their organizations by creating writing centers where they coach co-workers on how to improve their writing. Better writing will save time and improve productivity. PR will gain the organization’s respect and insight into what’s happening within the organization and may even turn up some interesting stories.