Performance Perspectives Blog

The art of writing is rewriting

by | Oct 23, 2010

As someone who loves to write, I learned a long time ago that there really is no such thing as “writing,” per se; rather it’s rewriting. One must be prepared to write, revise, and revise again. Often with letters and reports I do this many, many times. Today of course such acts are pretty simple, but before word processors they were much more challenging.

My last job in the Army was in the Field Artillery’s Directorate of Evaluation, where as an operations research analyst I engaged in studies, which resulted in rather lengthy reports. Fortunately, I didn’t type the reports: we had civilian employees who did this. But, because the best we had were IBM typewriters, when we made revisions the entire document (or at least the pages affected) had to be retyped. And revise and revise again we did.

Allegra Goodman discusses this topic in a WSJ article this weekend; I encourage you to read it. It’s quite brief, and the investment will be a good one. She points out the even the best writers revise.

Often even with the Blog posts I revise and revise and still miss things. Take yesterday’s post, for example. I read through it about four times, making slight changes each time, but still managed to miss an error in a calculation (a calculation I’ve written hundreds of times, mind you). Thanks to my friend Steve Campisi the error was caught and corrected.

We revise for a number of reasons:

  • to find errors, such as in formulas, grammar, word choices, and spelling
  • to eliminate text that we don’t need
  • to make our writing better
  • to replace passive verbs with active ones
  • and on and on. We can always find some way to make improvements.

I rarely let something go without at least one review; and when I fail to take the time to read through at least once, I often later find out I had made an error. Even e-mails should have a read through or two; but unfortunately, in my haste to get something out it often includes a boo boo or two, which is regrettable and inexcusable.

I also love it when someone else reviews my work.  Many of my more important letters and reports get reviewed by one or two folks in the office. Granted, neither are English majors, but they both are pretty good at finding things, which is good. I also often ask my wife, Betty, to review my work, as she’s great at catching things, but since she doesn’t work for us I can’t take advantage of her copy editing as often as I’d like.

And so, what does all of this have to do with performance measurement? Not much, but let’s simply call it a weekend diversion, sparked by Ms. Goodman.

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