(This post takes about 3½ minutes to read.)
As Stanford professor of organizational behavior, Robert Sutton, says, “The gap between knowing and doing is larger than the gap between ignorance and knowledge.” I’ve felt relatively successful in creating a systematic (systems-based) approach to workplace writing that students find extremely useful and say that they embrace (here’s what they tell me: http://qcgwrite.com/studentgallery). Although they’ve understood the concepts, their first writing efforts don’t always reflect them. They seem “to know,” but they are challenged “to do.”
Here’s one way I help them bridge that gap…by reading, a lot, and very analytically.
In my workplace writing seminars/courses, I insist that because writing is 90% about the content and 10% about the presentation (from the reader’s/user’s point of view) writing must be, above all, a responsive conversation with the reader. It involves not merely transmitting information. It involves understanding the ISSUE that brings writer and reader together, and, most important, it involves factoring that ISSUE into all the pertinent questions the reader/user has or should have about it.
Content comes from these. Content = ISSUE + reader’s pertinent questions + answers.
Having useful content keeps the reader’s level of interest high.
When the content is complete, it must be well presented. This involves helpful document design and a clear, appropriately emphatic style.
Having a highly readable presentation keeps the reader’s level of effort low.
To help students/workplace writers learn to apply these simple principles relentlessly in their own writing, I have them read a lot of workplace documents—email, letters, reports, web pages, blog posts, etc., and analyze them.
I have them read these and respond to them using the concepts outlined above. They must read several actual workplace documents weekly and post a response. They must tell me
· whether the document kept the reader’s level of interest high by addressing the reader’s pertinent questions and leaving out answers to questions the reader did not have and
· whether the document kept the reader’s level of effort low by designing a most helpful reading experience for the reader.
I have them explain where the actual workplace documents went right and where they went wrong. If they did go wrong, I have them tell me what advice they’d give the writer to improve the level of interest/effort.
The set of workplace writing concepts and skills students and seminar participants learn begins to create objective criteria for writing and assessing writing. The idea is to take personal preference out of writing assessment as much as possible.
One reason writers have better luck editing/reviewing others’ writing than their own is that a lot of editing/reviewing amounts to changing the other person’s writing to sound more like the editor’s own—“I would have said it this way….” Such editing often leads to making the text different but not necessarily better.
When writers edit their own writing, it’s already written in their own voice so it’s more difficult to make changes.
Get students to stand back from their own drafts and apply the questions of level of interest (have I addressed all my reader’s pertinent questions about the issue in question?) and level of effort (have I presented the information helpfully: have I designed a reading experience that allows my reader to easily navigate and understand the information?).
The more writers read and analyze real workplace writing, the closer they are to bridging the gap between knowing and doing. Such little steps are important. The more intentional writers become about applying the HOCs and LOCs writing principles I teach them (see here for Mastering Workplace Writing: https://www.amazon.com/Mastering-Workplace-Writing-Harvey-Lillywhite/dp/0692520082), the better chance they have of implementing those concepts and tools when they write.
Better readers DO make better writers. Let me know if you agree or if you have other solutions to the problem of bridging the knowing/doing gap.