Although it’s in the news in some form or another just about every day, if you don’t actually work in a business environment, you may not be aware just how intense is the focus on keeping costs down.
“Reduce expenses.” At work, it’s often on everyone’s lips. From executives in the corner office to receptionists in the break room, from company gurus in the coffee line to customer service reps on the phone, no one loses sight of the importance of reducing expenses. No one likes it, but no one forgets about it either. Usually they’re talking about the effects of reducing expenses—higher insurance prices to pay, fewer training classes offered, even layoffs. Pretty unpopular stuff.
Only executives talk about expense reduction nicely. Everyone else complains. Still, execs set the goals in corporations, and “reduce expenses” is always up there in the top two. (The first one, of course, is “increase revenue.”)
What does that have to do with an English major looking for a job in business? Just this: Bad business writing wastes time. It takes longer to read something that’s poorly written than something that’s well-written. Bad writing is less effective at penetrating a message or imparting information. And, well, time is money, isn’t it? At least from the perspective of corporate leadership it is.
Let’s take, for example, a high tech company, full of well-paid technical professionals. A group of 15 of them are working on a project. Their average salary is $60,000. That means that a minute of their time is worth about 50 cents. (This is exclusive of benefits and overhead, just their salary divided by the number of work minutes in a year.) Let’s say this group of well-paid technical professionals working on this project have to read a product evaluation report. Someone on the team wrote it, describing all the products evaluated, the results of the evaluation, and which product is now recommended.
The writer of the report did a terrible job. It’s poorly organized. He doesn’t know a comma from an asteroid. (Ever tried reading a long list of technical product names without commas separating them?) His writing is drab, lifeless, not to mention the several typos throughout. It’s not particularly well-formatted either. And somewhere along about page 6, there are a couple of paragraphs that seem remarkably out of place. Oh, look, it’s marketing text lifted directly from a product website (without citation). Frankly, that’s the best part of the whole document. Too bad it’s plagiarism.
So back to our 15 highly paid technical folks. They each spend about 25 minutes reading this thing, in part because they have to go back and re-read sentences that don’t make sense, or they put it down to answer the phone, relieved to have an excuse to stop reading. Had the report been well written, they could have knocked it down in 15 minutes.
That’s 10 wasted minutes, per person, times 15 people. That’s $75 wasted on just this one occasion. Multiply that by hundreds of poorly written deliverables, read slowly and poorly by hundreds of people, 365 days a year, and the cost of bad writing becomes material!
There’s a hard dollar return on better business writing. English majors in business can help to reduce expenses. Now that would be a good Return on Investment (ROI).