How do you diplomatically tell important people that they can’t write?
I recently had lunch with a friend who manages the relationships between one of our clients and an important group of industry analysts. He described a ticklish challenge he’s facing this way: “All of these guys are smart, but not all of them can write. How can I tell them they can’t construct meaningful sentences to save their lives—without hurting these relationships? Can you help? It’s a delicate subject. Who knows how these guys will react?”
Telling someone that he or she needs help writing can be like telling your boss that her teeth are festooned with bits of spinach. In touchy situations like this, you know that you should mention the problem, but summoning the nerve to do so is an effort.
One way to approach the subject is by sharing how editorial best practices help ensure world-class content. Here at TDA, we follow a disciplined workflow that starts with crisp, high-level direction before we proceed with hands-on editorial services that run the gamut of content shaping and development, peer read-behinds, copy editing, fact-checking, and proofreading.
In addition, writing and editing are different professions here at TDA. Writers write. Editors edit. Different skill sets, different qualifications, different personalities.
Expert editing makes good writing even better. The eye of an experienced editor helps writers tell a story with a natural flow and logical transitions. Polishing text helps simplify even the most complex messages—and ensures those ideas are woven into a compelling story that has a beginning, middle, and end.
Besides working closely with our own writers, TDA editors routinely coach client authors who are renowned engineers, executives, marketers, or scientists. This experience usually helps these folks understand and appreciate how our edit support services complement their writing efforts.
Once you’ve shared the concept of editorial best practices, you can more easily approach the difficult subject of how writing talent matters. Many brilliant thinkers just aren’t cut out to be writers. Others who do have the knack often don’t have the time to focus on writing. But it’s a job that can be easily outsourced to those who do have the time—and supporting resources.
As I told my friend, there is no shame in hiring dedicated writers to help, especially when communicating important, complicated ideas. So yes, you can inform people that they don’t write well—without injuring professional relationships. And if you follow the points above, you’ll probably find it easier to do than telling people they have spinach in their teeth.