Monday, September 26, 2011

Write Right

Good writing is important. Maybe crucial. For an example of good communication, take a look at Steve Jobs' resignation letter, below:
To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community: I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come. 
I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee. 
As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple. 
I believe Apple's brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role. 
I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.

Simple. Plain. Short. Expressive. Sincere. An easy to under message that flows from the top to bottom.

Now compare that with the following letter to Yahoo's employees from the Yahoo's management team,
What Yahoo! needs to do better — and we’ve talked about this — is accelerate innovation, reignite inspiration, and give our users what they want now — great content that is engaging and easy-to-use on any device and provides an experience in which they can participate and contribute.
Inspiring stuff, right? Makes you want to run through a brick wall for the company, right?
At this point, we cannot offer many specifics about the Board’s review; we’ve just gotten started.
If you can't provide any specifics, then why have you penned this long, long letter?
Our advisers are working with us to develop ideas that we will pursue proactively.
Pursue proactively? Did you think that we would assume that you were going to pursue things lethargically?
At the same time, they are fielding inquiries from multiple parties that have already expressed interest in a number of potential options. We will take the time we need to select and structure the best approach for the company, its shareholders and employees.
Translation: The company is up for sale.
You are instrumental to the success of our business — we can’t do it without you. While we will move with a sense of urgency, this process will take time. Months, not weeks. We know that’s a lot of potential distraction, but we believe it will be worth the wait.
Note the last half of the last sentence: "we believe it will be worth the wait." Not "it will be worth the wait (for you)." The management team is talking how waiting will benefit themselves, not the Yahoo employees.

If you are a glutton for punishment, you can read all three Yahoo letters here.

A couple of tips on clear writing. Drop the jargon. Drop the buzz words. Drop the acronyms. Take the time and make the effort to keep it short. Finally, writing, like most things, is a habit. If you use jargon, buzzwords and acronyms with your colleagues, you'll use them when you communicate with your clients and the public too. You can't write well some of the time. You have to learn how to write well all of the time.

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