How to pull the plug on a sea of business paperwork

Cutting Paperwork in the Corporate Culture, by Dianna Booher. New York: Facts on File Publications. 224 pp. $16.95. As Peter Drucker recently wrote, knowledge workers have become the center of gravity of the labor force. Within fewer than 10 years they will outnumber blue-collar workers.

But then, as Dianna Booher points out in her new book, paperwork is one of the big sources of inefficiency in the workplace. The idea of paperwork becoming an even larger proportion of the overall work done is not reassuring. The search for solutions is on. But before solving the problem of paperwork, the problem has to be recognized in its true dimensions.

``Studies of American businesses indicate that 50 to 70 percent of all working hours are spent on paperwork,'' Ms. Booher points out. How much of that time is simply lost? As she explains, ``losses caused by paperwork are losses in productivity, morale, and hard dollars.''

White-collar productivity has increased only 4 percent in the last two years, while blue-collar productivity has increased 90 percent. The clerical force makes up 37 percent of the white-collar category; it spends 51 percent of the work day writing and reading job-related materials.

Why such low productivity? More than half the time, poor management is responsible. A study in Training & Development Journal (July 1985) showed one of the reasons for management failure is insufficient or poorly planned communications. The major problem according to Booher is that ``knowledge workers can't give or gain `knowledge' because they're too bogged down in paper.''

Consider these facts:

We misfile 3 percent of all documents.

For every dollar spent on printing forms, we spend $20-$80 to process, copy, distribute, store, and then destroy them.

Seventy-five to 80 percent of the documents that we retain we never refer to again.

We write hundreds of letters, memos, and reports that are completely meaningless.

In 14 chapters, Booher tells us how to catch the paper tiger. Using actual case studies, she discusses almost every paperwork problem and gives her practical solutions in simple language. The added graphic elements, such as multiple bold subheadings, help the reader to find the information quickly. When the writing gets technical, Booher interrupts the discussion with anecdotes of well-known business figures.

Lee Iacocca, we learn, attributes his success at Ford Motor Company and Chrysler Corporation to his writing ability. In the ninth grade, Mr. Iacocca had to turn in a 500-word report every single week. By the end of the year, he had learned how to express himself in writing.

``Cutting Paperwork'' is full of good strategies, both for writing and eliminating the need to write. Booher has invented a new format for business writers -- the MADE forumula. It is a variation of the journalist's ``inverted pyramid.'' MADE means: message; action; details; optional evidence. State your message first; let your reader know what action you want taken or what action you plan to take; write who, what, where, and how; and, if necessary, refer to attachments and other enclosures.

Another good idea? Booher's Four Point Formula for Conciseness. That is: Use active-voice verbs; avoid adjective and adverb clutter; dig buried verbs out of noun phrases; and avoid circumlocutions, clich'es, and redundancies.

One of the last chapters is titled, ``Talking Versus Writing.'' Writers should ask themselves, ``Do I really need to write this?'' ``Could it be handled in another way?'' ``Could I just pick up the phone and talk to him or her?''

If writing is unnecessary, Booher urges, don't.

But if something must be written, we can follow Booher's strategies and everyone will benefit.

At the end of this useful book, there's a lengthy bibliography, making it even more useful.

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