Great Writing is built on specificity

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SquintingGreat writing is built on specificity

By Steve Crescenzo

Organizational leaders love to talk about “the big picture.” They love to talk about the view from 30,000 feet.”

Why? Because that’s where they live. They sit up there on the corporate version of Mount Olympus, and hurl communication thunderbolts down upon the masses in the form of executive letters, columns and memos.

And all of those communications represent the view from 30,000 feet, because that’s often the only view the executives see. And that’s fine. People need to see that bigger picture. They need to see the larger perspective, and understand how the various components fit together.

We’re not denying that the view from 30,000 feet is an important one. But at some point, corporate writers need to strap on a parachute and get their butts down to the ground level, because that’s where the action is.

Great writing is built on specificity. And there’s very rarely any specificity when you only look at something from 30,000 feet. Everything is kind of . . . blurry.

The classic CEO column in most employee publications is a great example of this. In the column, the CEO might talk about six or seven important projects or topics . . . but he’ll just touch on them. He might give an update, or mention that “the team” is doing great work. And then, in his mind, the job is done.

But for the communicator, the job is only beginning. Let’s say the CEO mentions that “The ongoing initiative to restructure the supply chain is proceeding according to plan, and the Six Sigma team assigned to the task is on schedule for a February rollout of the new system.”

That’s a nice big-picture update. Just what you’d expect from the CEO.

But now it’s time to tell the story. It’s time to put boots on the ground where the action is. It’s time to talk to some of those Six Sigma black belts who are actually doing the work. What problems have they faced? What has been their biggest challenge? What will success look like? How will it affect individual employees? How will it affect the company as a whole?

On the ground level, we’re looking for examples and anecdotes and specifics and drama and people. We’re looking for stories! And you can’t see those stories from 30,000 feet.

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