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Writing - Precision

1 min
writing  ✺  precision  ✺  documents  ✺  management

One of the key aspects of effective written communication is precision. Precision helps make documents more credible and influential; in addition to making the ensuing reviews and decisions data-driven.

Here are my top 4 tips to make your next document more precise:

1️⃣ Eliminate Weasel words: "Weasel words" are words or phrases that make it sound that they are providing a clear answer, but on deeper inspection are inconclusive and/or vague. Examples of these include: many (how many is many - 2, 10, 100?), often (how often: every time, 50% of the time?), probably (for sure? 10% chance?) etc.

2️⃣ Harness 5 Ws: Use the 5 Ws of Journalism (Who, What, When, Where, Why) to guide adding precision to your statements. For example: We launched XX product. Who launched this product? When did we launch this product? Why did we launch this product?

3️⃣ Provide Context around Figures: Numbers in absolute are difficult to interpret (or worst can lead to multiple interpretations). Add the necessary context so that these can be interpreted in the appropriate way. An example is: We achieved sales of $1.1 MM dollars in the last 3 months. How meaningful is this achievement? Is it inline with plan, below, or exceeding? We can restate this as: We achieved sales of $1.1 MM, +10% above our target of $1 MM driven by XX. On this point also ensure that whenever you provide relative changes that you include the accompanying absolute base (defects decreased by 25%, from X to Y).

4️⃣ Be Mindful of Over-precision: Make sure that the level of precision is commensurate with the level of uncertainty in the data and the context. This is particularly important for forecasts. An embarrassing moment I had early on in my career was when we presented to our org leader stating that the forecast of downstream value for a certain product after a year was $X,XXX.12. His response was that if we were this precise, we should go work on Wall Street.

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