Reckless writing

recklessSee also recklesswriting.org

Reckless writing is when writers just float a document ‘out there’ without any serious thought about their readers. Like reckless driving, it’s just doing what you think is OK without properly considering the consequences.

Even if your document is complete and accurate, not considering your readers is reckless. Not considering how they will understand and what they will do as a result of reading is both arrogant and careless. Not taking the time to structure your document in a way that makes sense, and not writing plainly in language readers can understand, is irresponsible.

It is never enough just to write what you think is good enough – the reader is the sole judge of effective communication.

Unfortunately, reckless writing is common. It’s unusual for authors to carefully articulate the purpose of the document and the needs of their users before they start writing. Proper user (reader) testing is rare. And document reviews don’t always fix the problem – they can end up being group recklessness.

But reckless writing is very risky behaviour for government agencies and businesses. It’s especially risky if you write documents that people use when making decisions.

Sometimes the risk is that the document is ignored. In that case, all that has been lost is

  • research effort in defining the content
  • writing effort, as authors struggle to find words to convey ideas
  • design effort when graphic elements are sourced to supplement the words
  • review effort as the document passes through various levels of approval
  • publishing cost, perhaps printing or placing it online
  • archival and governance effort to keep proper records of the document
  • the opportunity – the document was intended to achieve some outcome but didn’t.

Other times the risk is that users (readers) misunderstand the document and take an action that they shouldn’t, or that they would not have if they had understood it properly. When that happens, the cost to you and to them can be huge and may potentially involve legal action.

Consider your users when you write and what they need to do with the information. Test to make sure you are communicating effectively.

If you know a victim of reckless writing, please get them to contact me.

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