Leadership essentials: how to manage other people’s writing
Posted on 7 June 2016 by Lucy Gregory
If you’re in a leadership role, chances are you don’t write much anymore. Instead, you’ve taken on the role of editor: checking, improving and signing off your team’s documents.
Most of the leaders I’ve spoken to find it a nightmare – for three reasons.
First, the document they’re reviewing is going to someone important. Or it’s being published for the whole world to scrutinise. So it must be word perfect.
Second, they’ve run out of time. It doesn’t matter how much time there was to start with, they’re now screwed.
Third, they think the document is a mess.
A team leader’s most common response to rewrite the document themselves. It’s a mad scramble to the finish line and no one’s happy with the result.
Being an editor in a business environment is much more about management than writing. And by applying a few management techniques, you’ll see a vast difference in the quality of your team’s documents.
1. Start with a team meeting
Make sure your writers understand the task and have the information they need – especially juniors with less knowledge and experience to draw on. Do you have strong views on content or structure? Make them known now.
Then send your writer(s) away to plan the document. If you’re working with a team of writers, encourage them to talk to each other and share ideas throughout the planning stage.
2. Insist on seeing a plan
Require every writer to submit a plan of their document or section so you can check content and structure before they start a first draft. By flushing out repetition, inconsistency and general rubbish at this stage, you’ll save a huge amount of time down the line.
If relevant, hold another team meeting to discuss and finalise the plan. Or hold separate discussions with your writers.
3. Provide comments, not a mark-up
Tempting though it is, don’t edit the first draft you receive. Instead, sit down with the writer and chat through your comments. Your feedback should be detailed and constructive: statements like ‘This isn’t what I wanted,’ aren’t helpful. Give the writer a chance to explain the things you disagree with (you might even change your mind). Then ask the writer to revise the draft themselves.
This benefits both of you. The writer learns from the experience, keeps ownership of the document and isn’t demoralised by a heavy red mark-up. You don’t waste time redoing someone else’s work.
4. Appoint a trusted proofreader
You and your team will be too involved with the document to do a proper proofreading job. So find someone else to do it.
Your appointed proofreader needs an exceptionally strong grasp of grammar and punctuation, a keen eye for detail and a pedantic nature. Brief the proofreader properly and encourage them to ask questions before starting.
5. Allocate enough time to the writing process
You need to invest time in these techniques or they won’t work. But if writing is a key skill for your team, I promise it’s worth the effort.
And if you’re a writer, wishing your boss would adjust their editing style? Maybe send them this blog as a subtle (or not-so-subtle) hint.