The day my boss seriously maimed my report

3 October 2017

I still remember feeling devastated back in university when my lecturer returned my first Writing 101 assignment with the comment ‘Not bad for a first draft’. My masterpiece that I’d slaved over during the past week lay bleeding in my hands, riddled with red.

After more than 20 years as a writing consultant, I have heard many people tell me similar stories about how their manager seriously maimed their report. It can be demoralising. It might even make you resolve not to put so much effort in next time. What’s the point if your boss will change it all anyway?

Expecting to write a report and not have it amended by anyone at all is setting yourself up for disappointment. Your manager and others will be reading your work with fresh eyes, from a different perspective, and with different levels of knowledge and expertise. This teamwork is important and often results in a superior communication.

It’s common after writing a first draft to think it’s good enough. You might even think your work is brilliant and be tempted to email it to your manager immediately. This is risky thinking because it’s impossible to be objective about our own writing at the moment we finish writing. If possible, leave your communication for a few hours at least and preferably overnight, then revise it. This break will make it easier for you to spot and fix problem areas. In turn, this can cut down on the number of amendments your manager needs to make.

Learning to write well takes years of practice. Don’t take changes to your work personally; do try to become thicker skinned. Carefully observe what your manager has changed. If it's better than what you wrote originally, work out what your manager did to make the communication more readable. Then try and emulate this in your next writing task.

Ultimately, the communication belongs to your organisation, so it’s important to be open to your manager’s suggestions. But if you truly believe changes to your work have made your communication less effective, it may be appropriate to discuss your rationale with your manager. Whatever you do, don’t sulk or become defensive or antagonistic. Check your organisation’s writing style guide for specific requirements and always be prepared to professionally back up your argument. If your manager still doesn’t agree with you, let it go.

Although at times you might feel as though your writing has been hacked to bits in a personal attack, having your work amended doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad writer. It does mean you have a valuable opportunity to learn to become a better one.

Would you like to become a better writer? Contact Concise Writing Consultancy on 02 9238 6638.

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