Friday, August 11, 2006

Should You Comment?

The business world continues to spawn new ideas, new processes, and new techniques at an astounding rate. The significance or meaning of it all, however, is not always obvious to readers whose minds are often occupied with other matters. When you plan your writing, see if you have any new information or raw data that needs a bit of explanation, or commentary.

Objectivitiy on the job is usually considered a virtue, but it became totally unwarranted several years ago during an incident at a Chrysler assembly plant. An ABC television reporter, interviewing a worker responsible for driving new cars off the assembly line, registered more than mild shock when the man said,

"One day a steering wheel came off in my hand."

"What did you do?" the reporter asked.

"I jammed it back on the column and parked the car with the others."

"Did you tell anybody?"

"No," the man said. "Not my job."

Total, unwavering objectivity, and the refusal to add helpful information when it is called for, is at least irresponsible, and can be, as this case demonstrates, downright dangerous.

A lab technician writes, "During the experiment, the temperature rose to 750 degrees Fahrenheit. " He also believes the reading to be unusually high under the circumstances, but says nothing because he is sworn to the facts of the matter, no more, no less. In this case, he is letting objectivity rule his better judgment.

Fortunately, such circumstances are rare. Most business writing situations are based on ordinary, day-to-day events, where an appropriate comment seldom poses a threat to those who regard opinion as an act of treason. A writer possessed by objectivity will say, "The letters were sent yesterday, as you requested. A communicator would add, "They will arrive later than usual, however, due to the recent postal workers' strike."

Have you ever listened to a specialist (doctor, lawyer, car mechanic), wishing he or she would translate all the technical detail into something meaningful to you, something you could understand? Such moments demonstrate that there are times when a comment or two is needed, not only to convey information but also to communicate with your readers.

Finally, when you do choose to include explanatory comments, make sure you are motivated by a sincere desire to help your reader comprehend the significance of your information, and not by a momentary desire to inject inappropriate opinion or bias.



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