(This post takes 8.5 minutes to read.)
We all tend to follow the path of least resistance. That doesn’t mean we don’t ever work hard. Sometimes working to grow a business consumes your attention 24/7…but there’s no other path to success. But, as Mark Cuban reminds us in his surprisingly brilliant little book, How to Win at the Sport of Business (https://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Sport-Business-Can-ebook/dp/B006AX6ONI), whatever you’re selling will fail if it doesn’t offer the customer the path of least resistance.
And that’s why my HOCs & LOCs approach to writing—as brilliant as it is, as much as students whom I force it on end up loving it and people in my writing seminars who have paid to hear what I have to say about writing love it and retain its main ideas over many years—HOCs & LOCs is having a really tough time catching on. My bad!
You could read almost any of my blog posts on writing and figure out the HOCs & LOCs approach. It almost all I talk about. It says, in brief, if you want to do workplace writing well, you must do the following.
· You have to write to a REAL reader;
· You have to know the ISSUE the reader is interested in;
· You have to FACTOR that issue into all the questions the reader needs you to answer about that issue;
· You need to find answers to all those questions;
· You need to ORGANIZE the information logically;
· You need to DESIGN a reading experience for your reader that makes the information very easy to navigate and absorb; and
· You need to manage all aspects of your STYLE, including paragraphs, sentences, word choices, and mechanics, so the writing is clear, concise, and correct.
I admit it. All these steps appear to take a long time to work through...just to get an email or a report out the door??? This is NOT the path of least resistance.
But here’s the thing: Just as you can’t be a good recreational golfer just by having a ball, a club, and a course to stumble through, you can’t really be a competent workplace writer, a writer who brings value to the customer and does the company proud, just by having a keyboard and screen and an email- or word-processing program.
You need to take time to learn the basics. Most of us get through our writing classes in college one way or another. We go to work and our writing is okay. And we stop there. That IS the path of least resistance.
Only if a professor flunks us in the writing class or a boss complains about our writing or demands better writing from us will we take the trouble to brush up our writing skills. And where I’ve had success selling the HOCs & LOCs approach is typically in workplace situations where writing is crucial, in shops where reports must be created, usually in teams, and vetted through a rather lengthy chain of command, where reports represent significant risk for the workplace venture.
Performance auditors fit this category, as do many engineers, budget analysts, experts in legislative support services, etc. These people have been glad to make the effort to learn the HOCs & LOCs approach because it does bring order to a high-pressure and chaotic endeavor and delivers a systems approach to “writing” from beginning to end. It does create a system that eventually becomes, however arduous, the path of least resistance.
Since I just read Mark Cuban’s book, let me use a basketball analogy. A great basketball team needs every player to possess great game skills and know her role on the team. These skills are to some extent god-given, but even the most gifted athletes must learn the fundamentals and the craft of the game. Likewise, though we may be naturally gifted, intelligent writers, when the stakes are very high for our writing, we must learn the craft…enter the HOCs & LOCs approach.
So that makes sense to me. The regular worker who doesn’t face much risk in his writing will naturally follow the path of least resistance and just write whatever must be written to the best of his ability.
One more thing...I’d say that school/college is where we’re expected to learn the fundamentals of whatever field we’re entering. And writing is a skill in great demand. Any university president will say that writing is a high priority that MUST get proper emphasis. But it must get the right kind of emphasis!
In the academy, the very well-meaning writing teachers pound away on essays and other assignments (with no real reader), admonishing students to pay great attention to purpose, audience, persona, clarity, and correctness. But, in my humble opinion, they believe they’re teaching students “academic writing” so students can succeed in college. It’s highly debatable whether such writing classes actually do prepare students for so-called "academic writing," which obviously varies greatly from major to major.
But why aren’t these writing teachers teaching the fundamentals that will allow students to write successfully in the workplace? Workplace writing fundamentals are different from so-called “academic writing” fundamentals, which are different from so-called “creative writing” fundamentals.
Let me resort to a bold font and to the word “proclaim” here and PROCLAIM, as loudly as I can, that the first steps we teach writers to take (from grade one to grad school) should be what I call “practical writing,” a.k.a., workplace writing. These are the steps inherent in the HOCs & LOCs approach.
Okay, I gladly admit that the HOCs & LOCs critical-thinking and writing skills are not everything a writer can know about writing. WRITING is vast. But these skills are a sound foundation upon which any student/writer can build. We can learn “eloquence.” But you need to start with the basics. College writing teachers begin at “eloquence.” Would you throw a college freshman who can barely dribble a basketball into the NBA and then complain about her failure (and disinterest)???
Okay…that’s an extreme example. But I hope you see what I mean.
Because college (and high school) writing teachers don’t know the HOCs & LOCs NEW BASICS for writing in the digital age, again the H&L approach is NOT the path of least resistance for these teachers.
When will the writing teachers learn that starting with eloquence is not a good place to start? (Please don't start with essays to nobody in particular.) And even if some students learn eloquence does NOT mean they know the skills necessary for effective practical writing?
As I end this rant, let me show a soupçon of self-awareness. Yes, I know this all sounds like bragging. Who am I to proclaim that the HOCs & LOCs approach defines the writing basics ALL students should be taught from grade one through grad school? As Emily Dickinson said, “I’m nobody.”
But these skills are a matter of common sense. I’m ready to hear all rebuttals, arguments, confutations, and elenchus. I think the H&L approach stands up to the closest scrutiny.
But I realize it’s not the path of least resistance, for most workplace writers or writing teachers. Hmmmm. What to do? Any ideas?