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#321: Consultant Writing Skills

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, June 07, 2010
I recently received from a client a copy of a report submitted by a prior consultant. I was stunned by the sloppy language, misused terms and unclear recommendations. Is this common?

You are not alone in being concerned. Despite the increased emphasis by colleges on writing, many businesses see poor writing and presentation skills from their employees. Across the board - vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure and critical thinking - businesses are finding employee communication skills seriously deficient.

Consultants are not excluded from this finding, and many managers expect their consultants to be among the best communicators. The Wall Street Journal reports that even top MBA graduates can't meet business needs. One business reports, "It’s a daunting challenge these days to hire literate M.B.A. students who can write a coherent letter or memo. Too often, what [we get] from job applicants are collections of rambling thoughts littered with misspellings and grammatical gaffes."

A consultant's job is to communicate clearly ideas that may be derived from complex information and concepts. Although the solution to this problem is more than we can solve in this tip, here are a few ideas to help you improve your communication:
  • Structure - Be clear of your findings and recommendation before you begin to structure your communications. Write a logical outline of objectives, assumptions, approach, data, process, findings, risks and contingencies, and recommendation (or another structure, as appropriate). Flesh out the outline and dry run it before giving it to your client.
  • Grammar - take a second look to be sure you are using the correct words for what you are trying to say. Do you use the word estimate when you mean forecast or projection or extrapolation?
  • Spelling - use automated spell checking but also proof it manually. Best of all, have another person read all your material before delivering it to your client. Recheck your work after last minute edits (an occasional lapse for Daily Tips)
  • Presentation - Ed Tufte (The Cognitive Style of Power Point and other works) has shown how presentation technology linearizes thinking and reduces resolution of presented information. If possible, develop and present your findings and recommendations without resorting to PowerPoint.
Look for other ways to assure the full meaning of what you intend to present is clearly understood by your clients.

Tip: Before submitting your work to a client or to a journal or other publication, proofread it yourself and also by someone who is not a consultant. Advise them that you want them to flag any phrase or concept that is not known to them or wouldn’t' be recognizable to a high school senior. You might be stunned at how many items in your work that you consider "common knowledge" are really not.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  data visualization  presentations  trends  writing 

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