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Are you designing a horse…or a camel?

April 15, 2010

Image by: tinyfroglet

“A camel is a horse designed by a committee,” so the saying goes. And the same is true when it comes to writing by committee.

In an attempt to incorporate everyone’s opinion, what begins as a clear, compelling statement often mutates into vague or convoluted mumbo-jumbo.

Unfortunately, while it’s easy to spot this disaster a mile away, avoiding the deadly quagmire is another matter altogether.

Let’s Get Everyone’s Approval

Aaaaaaaaaah! Run as fast as you can from this one. One of the first things we learn as writers in the business world is to ask for accuracy review not approval. There needs to be one person who has the authority to make the final approval — not 10.

If you need to share the written document with an entire committee or numerous managers, make it clear from the get-go what their expected role is:

  • This [document] is scheduled to be distributed this afternoon, and I wanted to share it with you as an [FYI/for your files].
  • Please review this [document], and let me know of any inaccurate data/information by noon on Thursday.

Once you receive their feedback and suggested changes – which nine times out of 10 will include such nonsense as changing “use” to “utilize” (No!) or reworking a phrase to say something that’s so full of jargon no one can understand it: “Because we have skin in the game and want to play to our core competencies, indicatively we must focus on cost-containment factors for the impacted business units going forward,” (Huh?) – respond by letting your reviewers know what will happen with their feedback.

Thank You for Your Suggestions

Respond by thanking them for their feedback. If they provided true corrections to inaccurate data, let them know you’ll correct the information. If they provided style or opinion suggestions – similar to the ones above – let them know you will take it into consideration and incorporate as appropriate when finalizing the document. This lets them know you’ve listened to their ideas and yet clearly states those changes will be considered – not necessarily used.

The Committee Meeting

The approach above works the best when you’re routing a document for review individually vs. at an actual committee meeting. Should you be subjected to this approach, tread cautiously.

It’s best to, again, listen to everyone’s feedback and even write by committee if that’s what’s required. At the end of the meeting, let everyone know you’ll review all the suggestions, and rework the document in one voice to ensure clarity and cohesiveness.

This sets expectations, again. It lets everyone know that you’ve listened to their feedback and indicates your intent to recraft the document in the best light.

Whew. Quagmire narrowly avoided this time around.

How do you avoid designing a camel instead of the horse you need?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 26, 2012 8:34 pm

    This site has got a lot of really useful info on it. Thank you for sharing it with me.

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