What’s Your Role?

Yesterday I needed to cancel a routine appointment. I went to the appointments page on the medical office’s website and found a 404 ERROR notice – the same notice I’d seen a month ago when I made the appointment.

I used the phone number posted there and pressed 2 for appointments. A recorded voice gave me some directions and added, “Don’t use this voicemail to cancel an appointment.” Then there was a click.

Now what? (Please bear with me – we’ll get to writing in a moment. I promise there’s an important point coming.) I called the phone number again, pressed 3 to talk to the nurse, and canceled my appointment.

I stayed on the line and told her about the 404 notice and the less-than-helpful recorded message. She clucked sympathetically and said, “I’ll talk to Dr. Smith.”

Ye gods and little fishes. There isn’t anybody on the staff who’s charged with keeping up with the website and the phone settings?

Does someone have to “talk to Dr. Smith” if a @#%! light bulb burns out?

Here’s my point: you can have a head full of grammar, and a wonderful vocabulary, and a knack for style. But writing encompasses much more than the black marks on a piece of paper or computer screen. Most of the time what you’re really writing about is…life.

If the systems at your workplace are badly organized, you can’t write an effective business letter, report, or email.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because of a consulting job I did last week. An executive asked me to evaluate some emails his employes had written. He wanted to update their writing practices. Bravo!

What I found was a lot of gobbledygook and old-fashioned business terminology. But what really needed fixing was the way things were done in his office. You could see it – or at least I could – right there on those typed pages.

In short, he was the real problem. He’s also a good guy, and he appreciated my recommendations. They will be the topic of my next post.


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