Clear writing improves thinking
Good writing is important
Marvin H. Swift, a professor at the General Motors Institute at Flint, Michigan, in an article for Harvard Business Review, showed the link between writing and thinking. Swift described a manager upset because many employees were using the company’s copy machine for “personal matters, income tax forms, church programs, children’s term papers,” and more.
Determined to stop what he felt was an abuse of company assets, the manager dashed off a harsh directive threatening employees with termination if they continued to make photocopies for personal use. However, before distributing the memo, the manager reviewed his work and realized what he had written was not the message he wanted to send. He started revising the document to eliminate wordiness and to make the instructions clearer. As he progressed, he realized his note was too harsh, so he changed a few words to soften the tone. As he did this, he recognized that the logic underlying his memo was flawed. With this insight, the manager began to rethink his logic, and in doing this, he articulated a different policy—a guideline that would allow employees to pay for and self-police copies made for personal use. Through these rewrites, the manager found a better solution.
What is true for memos and short emails is even more valid for contracts, proposals, plans, technical articles, presentations, and other complicated documents. Complex and important documents benefit from iterative preparation.
This type of effort is not limited to big organizations and expensive projects. It also applies to individuals and smaller efforts. Most of us can recall starting to compose an email or letter, having to lay it aside, and later taking it up again and then seeing how what we wrote earlier needed fixing.
Turning ideas into words and putting those words down on paper or up on a computer screen allows us to reencounter our own ideas and imagine how others will receive them. As we reconsider what we wrote, we learn from our writing.
This is not a new phenomenon. Since the earliest times, teachers have required their students to compose and rewrite documents to help their students master what they were studying.
In general, the best writing requires the hardest thinking. This hard thinking goes by such labels as analyzing, diagnosing, planning, and pondering. Facets of this thought process include:
· Anticipating the readers’ needs and their reactions
· Collecting and organizing facts
· Selecting what to say and what to leave unsaid
· Fusing small ideas into a larger meaning
· Crafting persuasive arguments
· Conveying the right feeling