When do too many cooks spoil the writing broth?

24 July 2020

Writing is often seen as a solitary task. Yet to produce a report, brochure, fact sheet or other workplace communication, you’ll need to involve others. Having different team members contribute ideas, as well as provide feedback on drafts, can strengthen your communication. But beware. Too many cooks can sometimes spoil the writing broth.*

Stage 1. Planning: invite others to the party

At the beginning of the writing process, there is distinct benefit in putting 2 or more heads together. Each contributor to the document needs to have a consistent understanding of the purpose of the communication and the desired outcome. The writing team will also need to understand the needs of the audience and be focused on these needs.

Depending on the project and type of written communication, getting together with your team to brainstorm ideas for the content can reveal important insights. As a team, you can also develop an outline (structure) for the report, discuss the content, and clarify each team member’s role in the writing process.

Stage 2. Writing: keep the communication open

Although several team members may be contributing content to different parts of the report, the actual writing of each section is a relatively isolated task. If you have time to collaborate and seek feedback from team members, this will help highlight weaknesses or ambiguities. Consider using collaborative software like Google Docs, so everyone is viewing the same version.

It can also be beneficial for 2 or 3 team members to get together and do an initial edit to ensure the content is correct and there are no omissions or ambiguities. At this stage, it’s important to focus on ‘big picture’ issues rather than wasting time on finer details like punctuation and consistency of spelling - these will be picked up in Stage 4.  

Stage 3. Editing: get ready to go into iso

If several different team members have contributed to the same document, we recommend you allocate one person to edit the entire document to smooth out the differences in style. If you’re editing your own work, or don’t have a spare team member to do the editing, put the document aside for a few days, or longer if you can. This will help you view the report with fresh eyes. 

A professional editor can be an enormous asset and a wise investment. Professional editors are trained to spot the differences in writing style. While you get on with your other tasks, an external editor can produce a polished and consistent document.

Stage 4. Proofreading: lock the door and hide the key

Proofreading your own work is risky as it’s difficult to spot errors when you’re already familiar with the content. Ideally, at the proofreading stage, give the document to someone who has a good eye for detail and has not seen the content previously. For complex documents like annual reports, or other important external documents, we highly recommend you contract a professional proofreader.

At the proofreading and editing stages, too many cooks can definitely spoil the broth. As you progress through the writing stages and get closer to the end of the project, you’ll need to limit the number of people involved. By the time you reach the final stages of checking, it may be necessary to appoint a gatekeeper to strictly manage changes. We see many disasters as a result of authors making editorial changes following proofreading.

Collaborating efficiently throughout the writing process is not only essential for effective time management but also to ensure consistency and accuracy. Ultimately it’s the integrity of your document at stake and, by extension, your organisation’s reputation.

* The expression ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ is said when there are too many people involved in trying to do the same thing, so that the final result will not be good.

For high quality, professional editing and proofreading, contact Concise Writing Consultancy today on 02 9238 6638.

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