I bet that nearly everyone in the software-crafting industry has heard about YAGNI ("You Ain't Gonna Need It") principle. But what about TAGRI?
TAGRI (which is nearly as old as YAGNI) stands for "They Aint Gonna Read It". And (as I'm sure you've already guessed), it refers to all the situations when someone spends time writing texts (notes, articles, posts, etc.) probably no one will ever read. It doesn't necessarily mean that the text is just too long or too byzantine in its form - readers may pass on it for several different reasons, e.g.:
- lack of structure (who doesn't hate the "wall of text" kind of writing?)
- lack of proper formatting (emphasis, lists & enumerations, paragraphs for separate thoughts, (sub-)chapter titles that correspond to what's covered inside)), which makes reading unnecessarily monotonous & tedious
- lack of logical conduit (so-called "train of thought") - the subsequent thoughts are not inferred from their predecessors, hereby deepening the impression of chaos
- unclear purpose ("where is this all heading?") - the clearest indication of time-wasting
- repetitions or even running in circles - a disrespect to readers' intelligence
- a bad writing style that makes the content less comprehensible (too many acronyms, mental shortcuts, unnecessarily complicated vocabulary)
No-one is immune
The truth is, bad writing can happen everywhere. Even in companies that spend a lot of effort on cultivating so-called "written culture". Even in companies that hire top-most performers, constantly high on their own ambitions and intrinsic motivations.
The real difference is in how co-workers react to TAGRI. If they are not reluctant to provide honest, critical feedback (that requires a certain type of culture), that's very good news. It may be much, much worse if they just ignore the incomprehensible message:
- the message producer is unaware of the fact that it got lost in the void, and (s)he expects (re-)actions that will probably never happen
- the message receivers are de-synced with the message producer, w/ all the potential consequences (starting with organizational misalignment)
It looks like a potentially fatal miscommunication opportunity ...
How to avoid TAGRI? It's not rocket science, there are some ground rules that apply to nearly any kind of writing:
- if your message spans for more than three paragraphs / a page of well-formatted text, add a "(management) summary" (to summarize your point), preferably (and counter-intuitively) in the beginning, not the end
- the top-level structure should be very brief, simple, logical, and self-explanatory, e.g., goal -> assumptions -> thesis -> proof -> critique -> summary -> action items)
- the formatting should be applied "economically" (not too little, but not too much either) - make proper formatting your habit (e.g., by creating ALL your texts (incl. e-mail messages) in markdown, which supports basic formatting out-of-the-box)
- once you have a draft version of your text, re-read it while "entering the boots" of your reader; in their position: is the context clear? does the goal make sense? do the evaluation criteria match yours? is the vocabulary clear?
- perform the "iterative trimming": make 2-3 passes of the full text aimed to ruthlessly shorten it (each time) by 50% w/o affecting the message/reasoning
Consequences of denial
It sounds like a lot of fuss.
But if you're already a leader (manager, executive, etc.), is it really worth (your attention/time)? Shouldn't you rather expect your subordinates/team to make an effort (to comprehend a difficult message) on their side? Does it even make sense to make a "management summary" as a manager (for the ICs)?
It's not that easy to find a common denominator for all the good leaders, but the closest I've found is:
"brings the CLARITY (and reduces CHAOS)"
Any kind of written message has double importance. It's persistent (in contrast to a spoken message), so it can be easily referred to even after a long time. It's less interactive (than an opinion expressed in a dialogue/discussion), so there's less room for clarification. Due to economics (of time), it's rather 1:many than 1:1, so it has a wider impact range (and can be shared/forwarded easily).
So, now answer yourself a simple question - as a leader - can you afford any deficiencies of CLARITY in such (impactful) circumstances?