The cost of clarity

18Mar08

On the average, I would say that writing a truly clear document takes 2-4 times as long as making a mediocre one. In other words, the difference between “good enough” and “really great” is 100% to 300% more time invested. Is it worth it? I think so. But when I think about the crap that most organizations put on their websites and other public-facing channels, it’s pretty obvious that very few people feel this way.

The way I see it, the dominant approach is to just get something written as quickly as possible. Then, publish it right then and there, without any sort of double-checking or review by a colleague. This leads to senseless and confusing garbage that confuses the hell out of readers. Who cares, the writers think, it’s good enough and we can fix it later. Of course, later never arrives. At best, the crappy document gets replaced by an equally crappy, albeit newer, version.

Maybe I’m crazy, but I think producing sloppy work hurts everyone in the long run. If that’s your company’s approach, you’ll probably find yourself explaining things over and over again — for sales, tech support, and every other area — since nothing you’re providing is clear. That initial shortcut will keep costing you money month after month, year after year. Of course, maybe these companies don’t care. The people managing the website or writing the user guide never have to answer sales calls or talk to customers. But the costs are still very real. To me, if you don’t have time to write something clear, concise, and useful to your audience, do everyone a favor: find the time to do it right, or don’t bother in the first place.



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