Quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin
One thing I have observed is the increasing reliance on text messages and emails is driving a decline in actually creating well thought through documents. I may be “old school”, but I believe that documenting your thinking is still an important practice and should be revisited.
Of course, you shouldn’t simply do something for the sake of doing it. Text messaging and emails are highly efficient. So, when does it make sense to actually write a document? Here are 5 occasions when I think a written document should be preferred:
When you want to …
- Stimulate action
- Confirm agreements
- Inform interested parties
- Institutionalize learning
- Reply to Management questions
Documents provide the opportunity for a substantive two-way dialogue in a way fast, short hand correspondence struggles to do. A well written document allows the reader to more completely understand and respond to the intended message. Importantly, it also is not capable of being misunderstood.
I concede well written documents take time and require a skill mastery text messaging and emails do not. I also concede well written documents are scarier for the author because they require you to explain the rationale behind your thinking. It is easier to be criticized for poor or incomplete thinking when you are forced to share your logic.
In the spirit of full disclosure, my P&G training has instilled a bias on this subject. At P&G, we were trained to write the infamous “one page recommendations” to support important decisions. I can personally attest they existed when I worked there and they were challenging to author. But, they were important to effective decision making because:
- They drove an attention to simplicity and clarity. Writing sharpens thinking.
- Committing an idea to paper exposes weak thinking.
- They provide a paper trail rather than being forced to rely on memory.
- They make decision making easier and faster.
The steps to write well are easy to understand, but take work to master.
- Determine why you are writing the document. What action do you want it to stimulate? (see above)
- Define the key factors associated with taking the desired action.
- Collect all necessary information to address those key factors.
- Review the information and draw logical conclusions.
- Outline the document
- Draft the document.
- Edit the document for clarity, completeness, persuasiveness, conciseness, and correctness. (often useful to involve others so you have anticipated and addresses likely questions).
- Be certain costs, risks and other pertinent considerations are articulated.
- Send your document to the appropriate parties.
The first reaction most people after looking at the 9 steps is “That is a lot of work”. The reaction is valid. But, you should expect to make that kind of investment for important decisions and topics. As the saying goes, “that is why it is called work and not vacation”.
My hope is the above discussion stimulates you to think about the value of real writing. I am honestly not technology adverse, but the pendulum may have swung too far and it is time to bring it back to center. I think it is a question of using the right communication tool for the right purpose. Text messages and emails are good for somethings and bad for others. Your challenge is to find the appropriate balance for what you are trying to achieve.
If you have any thoughts or questions on the subject, please leave a written comment. My commitment to you is that I will respond in a timely manner.