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How to Write Like an Executive

by Patricia H. Westheimer and Vicki Townsend Gibbs

Bad writing is expensive.
People who write poorly pay the price in missed promotions and denied raises. Companies lose thousands of dollars each year on the countless hours their employees waste struggling with simple writing tasks and trying to decipher the poorly written memos and reports of other employees. Plus, miscommunication through bad writing can cost companies lucrative contracts and may even result in threats of legal action.

An article by William E. Blundell in The Wall Street Journal (August 28, 1980) told the following horror stories about the cost of bad writing.

A few years ago an oil company chemicals unit spent a bundle reinventing from scratch a selective pesticide one of its own researchers had found five years before; he’d buried the news 25 pages deep in a hopeless gumbo of report prose that no one apparently could get through.

But, the most memorable story of miscommunication was this one:

… a single hyphen omitted [on an order form] by a supervisor at a government-run nuclear installation may hold the cost record for punctuation goofs. He ordered rods of radioactive material cut into “ten foot long lengths”; he got ten pieces, each a foot long, instead of the ten-foot lengths required.

According to the article, the loss on this mistake was so great that the report on the blunder was “classified.”