Book Review: Rewrite – How to overcome daily sabotage of your brand and profit

Last weekend I sat in the autumn sun and read Rewrite: How to overcome daily sabotage of your brand and profit, by Lynda Harris of Write Ltd. Lynda has succeeded in creating an essential weapon for individuals who have the will to conquer costly writing habits in their organisation.

As you would expect from the chief executive of Write, New Zealand’s most prominent promoter of plain English standards, Harris has written a well-structured and beautifully clear manual. She leads the reader swiftly from a persuasive argument for better writing to case studies and methods which we can apply to achieve change. She gives us The Rewrite for Change™ model, and then explains, through case studies, how we can make it work.

Many of the case studies in Rewrite are of projects already superficially known to New Zealand writers, because we’ve seen the teams on the dais accepting their WriteMark awards. However, now we get the meaty detail on what they achieved, and how. Harris includes other stories too, such as the Dutch insurance company with 24,000 employees, which has prioritised plain language, and is now starting to reap the rewards.

This is a change management manual, not a guide to writing in plain English. As you might expect, Harris has included recommendations for other books and other resources that teach plain language, but this book tells you how to quantify, persuade, act. It isn’t about active verbs; it’s about the importance of leadership from the top, and how to convince lawyers and engineers that plain English isn’t dumbing their content down.

“The organisation…is careful to control its expenditure on items like taxis and pens. But it’s wasting hundreds or even thousands of dollars each day, because its communication is ineffective and not clear enough.”

It’s easy to make claims like this, but the challenge lies in proving them. Harris gives us the tools to do this; she provides suggestions for what to measure, and includes return on investment (ROI) calculators that we can apply ourselves.

I think what impressed me so much with this book, apart from its readability, is its grounding in the reality of large, complex organisations. There is no attempt to brush the harsh realities under the carpet. Instead, Harris names the big challenges and gives a variety of practical ways we can tackle them, while taking into account the culture and mood of the organisation.

Reading Rewrite is a trade-off – in return for reading what a cynic might say is a lengthy sales pitch for Write, the reader receives ample return. Golden advice from the seasoned Write team fills the covers, along with templates, tools, and calculators that we can freely use and adapt in our own workplaces. If this were a movie, I’d say it was well worth the price of admission.

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