The Big Cost of Bad Writing in Business

November 4, 2016

MartinThomasFrom short essays to lengthy term papers, college students are no strangers to writing. Matters don’t change much once they graduate to the business world: internal memos, progress reports, and a seemingly endless amount of emails constitute the daily tasks of many office employees. According to a recent study of businesspeople who write at work, an average of 22 percent of their time is spent reading. Unfortunately, the quality of the work that passes their desks is often clumsy or even unreadable. In fact, the same survey found that 81 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “Poorly written material wastes a lot of my time.”

The study goes on to estimate that American workers spend 6 percent of their time trying to decipher unpolished writing. All told, the potential value lost because of this wasted time amounts to nearly $400 billion of the national income. Responders largely placed the blame on confusing corporate jargon that fails to arrive at a clear point. For instance, consider this recent job posting: “The Area Vice President, Enterprise Customers will develop and manage a sustainable strategic relationship that transforms the current commercial model by creating joint value that results in the ongoing reduction of costs, continuous process improvement, growth and profitability for both partners with the ability to export key learnings.” Parsing such a dense, buzzword-heavy paragraph requires multiple readings, and even then a potential job prospect may still be confused.

In order to avoid wandering statements like the one above, writers must strive to “treat the reader’s time as more valuable than your own.” While structuring a message for readability and meaning takes effort, coworkers and superiors definitely take notice when they don’t have to re-read something for clarity. Plus, smartphones have ensured that people’s attention spans are shorter than ever. Given this current state of affairs, colleagues might not even bother to respond if you send an email they can’t understand quickly. Finally, here’s a simple tip from this author on how to improve your writing over time: read, read, read!



    1. Should companies train employees to become better writers?
    2. With technology changing so quickly these days, will writing continue to be a necessary skill in the business world?

Source: Josh Bernoff, “Bad Writing Costs Businesses Billions,” The Daily Beast, October 16, 2016. Photo by Martin Thomas.