Poor business writing skills cost US $400bn every year

US corporations are haemorrhaging cash due to substandard business writing skills, according to Josh Bernoff’s business writing skillsinsightful new study.

81% of businesspeople surveyed agreed that trying to understand poorly constructed business writing wastes too much of their time. Bernoff’s major revelation is to put a figure on the time wasted, and it’s just shy of $400bn.

What’s wrong with US business writing skills?

Bad business writing isn’t just a hassle, it’s a ghost tax on hardworking US companies, whose employees need to spend their time on activities that contribute to growth.

These types of content are some of the worst offenders:

  • Emails
  • Reports
  • Websites
  • Marketing materials
  • Press releases

The most common issues are:

  • Lack of clarity
  • Full of jargon
  • Poor structure
  • Too verbose

How the stats break down

Workers in the US spend 22% of their working day reading. Those higher up the pecking order are likely to read more.

According to Bernoff’s research, 6% of the average wage bill gets eaten up by time wasted trying to derive meaning from unclear written documents.

This is equivalent to $396bn being shaved off annual GDP – over half of what the US government spends on Medicare each year.

Why are business writing skills so abysmal?

All this begs the question: “How did we let things get this bad?”

Well, there’s a whole stack of reasons why business writing skills are leaving a lot to be desired:

  • We’re lazy, and value our own time more than our colleagues’
  • We’re so frequently exposed to poor writing, we’ve become desensitised to it
  • We think our colleagues will be impressed by complex business jargon rather than plain English
  • We write content by committee and overcomplicate messages that could be straightforward

However, you can save your employees from wasting time on poorly written documents.

How can US businesses stop the rot and improve their business writing skills?

US businesses need to get a grasp on this situation – and fast.

Here’s some of the things you could use to stop the rot:

Create a company style guide

Impart editorial standards onto your written communications by developing a company style guide and supporting policy for staff.

The style guide should cover the following factors:

  • Tone of voice
  • Document formatting
  • Accepted terminology
  • Word count
  • Choice of language (plain English, clear, succinct etc.)

Upskill your employees

Optimise your employees’ written skills by providing relevant training and ongoing refresher sessions.

This will have a positive impact on the quality of your written documents. Just remember that when trained employees leave the company, they will take their writing skills with them.

Call in the experts

Hiring a copywriter or other professional with advanced written English skills can help you establish a strong foundation by getting many of your everyday documents up to scratch. For a little up-front outlay, you can avoid cash streaming out of your company as your staff battle through on a daily basis.

Establish a foundation of key documents and templates that can be re-purposed in a whole range of ways, and then work with your chosen copywriter or copywriting agency to create a solid ongoing content strategy.

Bernoff’s study is a ‘kick yourself’ moment that should make you sit up and take note of all the money your company is losing because of poor writing skills. Whether you invest in training for your employees or partner with a specialist copywriting agency, make sure you’re not leaking revenue because of poor business writing skills.

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