My plan was to condense my leadership book down to 2,000 words or so. Hold that thought.

I’ve started the final section of my “Building effective IT 101” series. It will cover the most important organizational effectiveness dimension – human performance.

Strong human performance entails leadership – all eight tasks of it, along with compensation and organizational structure. Having already written 28,000 words about leadership, I figured I could knock this one out without breaking a sweat.

Somehow I’d forgotten a long-ago-learned publishing lesson: editing is harder than writing.

Not that writing is easy. But at the risk of splitting hairs rather than infinitives, bad writing is easy, good writing is hard, and editing is easier or harder in inverse proportion to the ease of writing.

(Metrics sidebar: Some publications pay by the word. That’s counterproductive, because the more words a writer puts in, the more time an editor has to expend to remove them.)

Effective writing is part of every business executive’s, manager’s, and knowledge worker’s job description, too. But they (you) don’t have the mixed blessing of an editor to sharpen up the dull penpoint that’s supposed to be mightier than your average sword. Then add this challenge: Much of the advice you’ll find about how to write effectively pertains to scribing for publication. Its value for your average Reply All email ranges from limited to counterproductive.

Don’t believe me? Google the subject and count how often you’re told to eschew adjectives. Plot spoiler alert: You’ll find this advice scattered all over the Googleverse.

I’ll take it when someone explains how I’m supposed to describe an edifice made of stacked blocks that reflect 700 nanometer electromagnetic radiation without preceding the noun “brick” with the adjective “red.”

In business writing, sometimes the most tedious adjectives (adverbs too) are modifiers – words like very, somewhat, mostly, and so on – and they’re essential.

They can make a published work dreary. But excluding them in business writing can commit a manager to unachievable results. “We’ll get this done by the end of the year,” makes a dangerous promise. “We’ll probably get this done by the end of the year” does not.

Nor is “probably” just a safety play. It’s more accurate. Certainty might make for better writing, but when it’s about the future it’s best left to the Oracle at Delphi, not those responsible for implementing Oracle.

When you, like me, need to squeeze a first draft that fully explains a complex or contentious subject into a much smaller space, cutting down on modifiers doesn’t help. What you need to do is to make hard choices about what and what not to leave in.

For example: The first of the eight tasks of leadership is setting direction. I could limit my explanation to a definition – “Setting direction is about how things are now that the leader wants to be different and better in the future.”

Or I could break setting direction down into its component parts: “Setting direction includes vision, strategy, mission, and values,” and leave it at that.

But that still leaves a lot of room for misunderstanding. I’ve tentatively decided (this is, after all, a work in progress) to provide brief explanations of each of these, along with a few dos and don’ts.

But extrapolating my leadership word count to all human performance factors, I’m going to exceed 10,000 words – roughly five additional articles to give human performance its due.

There’s another factor people who write in business settings have to contend with: What we know exceeds our audience’s reading appetite. Whenever we leave something in to reduce the chance of misunderstanding we also motivate our audience to scan our deathless (or, in many cases, lifeless) prose instead of reading it for complete comprehension.

For this, two tips. #1: When you do decide to provide in-depth information, use bolded headings or paragraph labels so readers know what to expect. That puts them in a position to choose whether to dive deep or be satisfied knowing you dived deep.

#2: Keep paragraphs short to give your audience’s eyes a break. Ten lines is a practical maximum. Five is better, two to three is better yet.

Bob’s last word: Editing is harder, and more painful (for the author), than writing. Trimming, not just fat but a fair amount of muscle and connective tissue hurts.

As evidence: The first draft of this essay was about a hundred words longer than what you’re reading, and I was quite fond of every one of them.

Bob’s sales pitch: The holidays season approaches. What could be a better gift for your favorite business and IT professionals than one of these beauties? (And yes, that was a rhetorical question.)