The presenting problem, and the real problem

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Sometimes a company or organisation will come to us and say ‘We’ve got a problem with our writing’. Maybe they’re struggling to get their customer letters past compliance. Or maybe their senior managers are despairing of the sloppily-written documents they’re expected to sign off.

But, when we look into things a bit more closely, we often find it isn’t just writing that’s the problem. Maybe the customer service and compliance teams are at cross purposes and aren’t communicating with each other effectively. Maybe asking someone else to check your work before you send it to the boss isn’t part of the company culture.

Or sometimes the opposite happens. We’ll be chatting to a client about a bit of writing work, and they’ll mention in passing that they’re finding it hard to recruit the right sort of people. Or that they’re getting a lot of customer complaints. Or that they’re struggling to keep their employees motivated during a big period of change. These aren’t what you’d normally call writing problems. But they’re problems that writing can help solve.

Psychologists talk about the difference between ‘the presenting problem’ and ‘the real problem’ – the gap between what the patient thinks is wrong with them and what’s actually wrong.

It’s often the same sort of thing with our clients. We can help you figure out whether a ‘writing problem’ is really about process, or culture, or how teams work together. And we can help you sort out thorny business issues by changing the way you write for the better.