I know, I know. A writer is someone who writes books. An editor does something important at a newspaper. That’s not you, right?
But every time you write an email, or post something on Facebook, you are writing.
Every time you go to the local print shop and organise a card or a flyer for your business, you are writing.
Every time you send a WhatsApp message, you are writing.
And every time you pause before you send and look again at the email or WhatsApp or Facebook post and add a full stop or wonder if Coronavirus starts with a capital letter or not (it doesn’t), you are editing.
We don’t think about these things at all, because they seem so ordinary. But they are important.
When things go wrong
They are important because they are all forms of communication, with another person at the other end.
Human beings are good at face to face communication. We’re not so good at written communication. As one consultant says:
In face-to-face communication, we rely heavily on non-verbal information like facial expression, body posture, gestures, and voice tone to interpret and predict other people’s behavior.
Without these important non-verbal cues, our imaginations fill in the blanks of what the person sending the message intended, and how they felt about the communication. We rarely fill in the blanks with positive intentions. This can lead to misunderstandings, damaged relationships, and poor business decisions.
We’ve all sent emails or made posts that blew up in our faces because the readers just didn’t get it.
How to fix it
For informal communication, the first step is taking our communication more seriously. Even a WhatsApp to your teenager could do with a second read before you send it (especially, probably, a text to your teenager). And think like a writer: do that second read while trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
For more formal communication, the first step is the same. Take everything seriously. Even a hastily made poster explaining that you are closed during the lockdown needs to be thought through. Read it again. Put it away, even if just for 10 minutes. Then read it again. Make changes.
And if you are still unsure – ask a friend or colleague to read it.
And only then do you hit print.
And for the big stuff? The annual report, the novel, the flyer, the billboard. Just spend money on a professional writer or editor – or both!
Main image by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash