Academic journal article Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication

Managing the Drafting Process: Creating a New Model for the Workplace

Academic journal article Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication

Managing the Drafting Process: Creating a New Model for the Workplace

Article excerpt

Most business communication teachers who have studied process approaches to writing recognize the value of "drafting" as part of that process. By "drafting," we mean the recursive activity of writing multiple versions of a document, each version changing in response to readers' comments or the writer's new insights. Drafting is an important classroom pedagogic strategy because, in the time between drafts, teachers can intervene and help writers develop their ability to read their own writing critically and to plan changes. Drafting is equally important, however, as a writing strategy because, as is commonly acknowledged nowadays, writing is itself a tool for learning. The process of writing promotes an increased understanding of complex material, which a writer can then incorporate into subsequent drafts. The more complicated or important a document is - and the more inexperienced a writer is - the more valuable it becomes to put the document through multiple drafts.

Not all writers in the workplace share the teaching profession's commitment to drafting. In our role as communication consultants, we have worked with several organizations that take a very different approach to producing complex documents - and have a negative attitude toward drafting that ultimately compromises the quality of documents they produce. One of our goals as we consult in these organizations is to change the negative attitude toward drafting by helping writers develop a new image of the writing process and follow the procedures that this new image implies.

In many organizations that call on us to solve business writing problems, younger writers typically work by themselves to produce a version of a report or proposal they hope is ready for final editing and formatting. Project managers encourage writers to produce this near-final version essentially in one draft, perhaps preceded by an organizing outline. The managers rationalize that writing more than one draft is a time-consuming luxury, a practice too impractical and expensive for the business world. Many managers themselves write - or believe they write - documents in one draft, so they do not feel guilty imposing the single-draft requirement on the writers who report to them. However, the managers are often unhappy with the near-final products that the younger (or less accomplished and less confident) writers in their departments produce; they believe that these writers take too long to turn out a piece that requires too much editing. And the writers themselves are unhappy and frustrated with the process because they do not feel free to write early drafts to generate or discover ideas, experiment with ways to organize the information, or get preliminary feedback from others. At the same time, they feel uncomfortable jumping straight into a near-final draft since they are trying to organize so much material that is new to them.

When executives and managers in these companies contact us, they often assume that the best way to improve the quality of writing in their organizations is to provide writing workshops designed to improve the skills of individual writers. In working with these companies, however, it becomes apparent that solving the writing problems requires addressing not just skills but the drafting process as well. By managing the drafting process more effectively on every project, we hypothesized, managers could accomplish two key goals: their short-term goal of helping less accomplished writers turn out a good report for that project; and their long-term goal of helping the younger people become better writers who ultimately require less help from the managers themselves.

Helping companies revise their writing procedures, however, requires more than teaching people textbook models of the writing process; what works well in the classroom may be thoroughly ineffective in the workplace. As researchers of writing in non-academic settings have long argued, companies' practices for producing writing can be deeply embedded in a web of other organizational practices, assumptions, and values specific to that culture. …

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