Writing with Russ: Top Down Approach

Posted on October 21, 2015

Russell Bither-Terry, Voter Engagement Advocate for Oregon Secretary of State, reflects on working at the UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center to bring you tips for clear, concise writing. 

Last time on Writing With Russ, we learned about reading our writing out loud for fun and profit. I didn’t really say anything you can’t find many other places, though I’d wager my article had better pictures and videos.
imagesI’d like to follow up up with something I don’t see talked about nearly enough. Namely, many of us write in places where reading our writing aloud would be awkward. In some case, like a library, it could even be against the rules. The more people do it the more normal it will become, but what can we do now?
Today I’ll be talking about a “top down” approach where a manager promotes reading aloud to her reports. Next time we’ll look at “bottom up” strategies.
Certainly, every professional should work on becoming a better writer, but this can only go so far. We also need efforts to support and encourage better writing in government that go beyond this, and an organization’s leadership sets the tone. It is also a chance to use formal leadership authority to develop employees’ skills.
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Let’s say we have a manager who wants to promote reading aloud. She could:

  • Communicate that reserving a conference room to read work aloud without disturbing people is not only allowed but encouraged.
  • If a piece has some errors and/or awkward sentences, hand it back and ask the employee to read it aloud, edit it, and hand in the new version.
  • Tell employees not to give her any drafts that haven’t been read aloud at least once.
  • Encourage employees to read drafts aloud to each other when cooperating on a piece of writing.

A manager doesn’t have to add the additional responsibility of being a full-blown writing tutor. She doesn’t have the time for that. However, many of the things on this list take very little time and could lead to a real improvement in writing.

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