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May 12

Reading and writing

Posted by: Andy Osborne in DRJ Blogs

Tagged in: Untagged 

Andy Osborne

By Andy Osborne, Acumen
Originally posted on Oz's Business Continuity Blog

I like writing. I like reading too, although with everything else vying for my attention, I don’t get nearly enough time to read for pleasure.

On the writing front, I blog when I can, although not as often as I’d like, I write my "Tip of the Month", the odd article here and there and I have a couple of books to my name so far – just in case you didn’t know, and in a blatant and shameless piece of self-promotion, they’re called "Practical Business Continuity Management" and "Risk Management Simplified", available from www.practicalbcm.co.uk and www.rmsimplified.co.uk or from your favourite online bookstore! I also write newsletters, match reports and website content for my hockey club and, of course, there are various reports and the interminable e-mail treadmill that we all have to contend with.

The thing about writing, though, is that, whatever form it takes, it needs to be readable. That may sound blindingly obvious but it’s a point that seems all too often to be missed. There’s undoubtedly a place for flowery prose and complex grammatical constructions in certain types of literature. But in the vast majority of cases, unless you’re a serious contender for the Man Booker prize, the art of making something readable is, in my humble opinion, to keep it simple and use plain, clear, concise language. And proper grammar. And punctuation. And spelling.

At the risk of getting side-tracked onto one of my ‘soap-box subjects’, this week I’ve been faced with two mute points (presumably ones that the people concerned couldn’t talk about) a Pacific requirement, several occurrences of the ‘stunted too’ (‘to much’, ‘to many’, etc), various people being effected by the affects of something and countless examples of the inappropriate apostrophe, including a motley collection of rooms’, opening hour’s and sandwich’s, along with too many (as opposed to to many) it’s to keep count of. Amazingly, some of these grammatical abhorrences have been in ‘published’ articles (as opposed to article’s) and adverts (as opposed to advert’s) from well-known companies trying to convince me of the quality of various products or services – I’m afraid they failed. All of which suggests to me that either people can’t be bothered to proof read these days or the quality of proof readers isn’t (as opposed to is’nt) what it was. (…and relax!)

You may not consider this kind of thing to be important, but I happen to think it is – from the point of view of the general erosion of standards, which seems to have reached landslide proportions in recent years, but perhaps more importantly because of the fact that so much of what is written today, particularly in a business context, verges on the incomprehensible. Here are some recent examples…

The other day I received an e-mail from someone who shall remain nameless. There wasn’t a comma or full stop in sight and the grammar (and I use that word loosely) was awful. Despite reading it four times, I just didn’t have the faintest idea what it was going on about. In the end I asked Mrs Oz (proof-reader extraordinaire) to read it and we picked through it a few words at a time until we came up with a translation that seemed to make some sense.

On a more personal note, I recently received what I think was meant to be a compliment from a fellow member of our hockey club committee, who said to me “don’t think your efforts haven’t gone un-noticed” – I’ll leave you to ponder that one.

I reviewed a business continuity plan last week that was so difficult to follow, both in terms of its (as opposed to it’s) layout and content, that I couldn’t help thinking that people probably won’t even bother to refer to it if they ever find themselves in a situation where it might actually be useful (or not, as the case may be).

And that’s the point really. If your business continuity plan is difficult to read and difficult to understand, particularly if it’s so difficult to read or understand that it’s (as opposed to its) not actually going to be useful to anyone, then why spend an awful lot of time and effort writing it the first place? Take my advice and don’t bother. Spend the time doing some exercises or tests instead - they’ll be far more beneficial than an unreadable, unread, unused plan.

Whilst I don’t claim to be (quite) perfect, and the odd grammatical inaccuracy or typo will slip through occasionally, it’s the exception rather than the rule, because I can be bothered to check (incidentally, do let me know if you find any in this blog and I’ll chastise my proof reader accordingly!). And I like to think that my various scrawlings are, at least, understandable to all but those with the most basic grasp of English (and, of course, those who don’t have a clue what business continuity is about).

As I said in one of the tips in "Practical Business Continuity Management", entitled "As clear as mud", if you think clarity isn’t important, here’s a quote from Richard Nixon that might make you think again…

“I know that you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant.”

I rest my case!

Oh, and incidentally, if you don’t think spelling’s important, I suggest you talk to a lady I know who has a mis-spelt tattoo!