2 min read

They say raising a child takes a village, but is the same true for writing?

Arms stretch to meet and form a stack in the centre.
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

There comes a time in most of our lives when we are asked to collaborate on a document. Where you need to consolidate the voices of many, or potentially synchronise updates from a number of people or teams for a senior leadership review. Maybe, you are preparing a board pack and compiling many different updates and strategies into a single document. If you’ve ever tried to write as “a village”, or worse yet, write a document by committee, has it ever worked?!

Most of us enter these sorts of arrangements with great intentions, which Jeff Bezos once famously said “never work”. We think that by giving Pamela from Finance a paragraph and Mark from Legal a paragraph, along with Aeisha from Marketing, and Omar from Sales that you will split the work. Divide and conquer. But…

Pamela, Mark, Aeisha, and Omar will likely feel their sections need more than a paragraph, and they all write in such different styles. Omar loves a diagram, Aeisha loves bullet points, and Mark has to include a table. Their language and sentence structure will differ. And who’s job is it to consolidate all these ideas and updates into a single document? How long will it take to agree on the wording?

When we write in siloes, are we all clear who we are writing for?

Readers love documents that flow. They like the consistency of format, style, language, and sentence structure. Every time a different writer is introduced it stops that flow. The reader has to refocus and almost start again. It is unlikely that the overall story has been thought about and it makes for a much slower review, as information tends to be harder to consume.

How can you avoid this?

Have a single author. Do the collaboration before the writing starts, and regroup to review. When I delivered the Amazon writing training, I talked about Barbara Minto’s Pyramid Principle as a great way to start planning. The Pyramid Principle advocates that “ideas in writing should always form a pyramid under a single thought”. The single thought is the answer to the big question or problem statement you are writing about. Then you build your pyramid of supporting logic and the data and insights that support this logic.  I like this framework as you can get clear on the story and how all the parts fit together. It’s a reader-centric approach. Once the structure is agreed and the different thoughts and content organised, one person can write.

With the structure in place, writing shouldn’t take too long. The thinking is done. Then when the document is drafted the group can re-form to review and revise. The benefit of the single author is all about consistency. Greater consistency in writing style makes for greater readability, which makes for happier readers.

Like what you just read? Leave a comment or share with a friend.