“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” - Nathaniel Hawthorne
Do you dread writing at work? Do you write, re-write, and then procrastinate some more before hitting the “send” button? Formal proposals, memos, and even internal emails can be stressful and hamper productivity for many employees. In fact, author and researcher Josh Bernoff reports that poorly written material costs American businesses nearly $400 billion every year.
How can you make sure you are communicating as clearly and effectively as possible? Read on for 9 tips to sharpen your professional writing skills at any stage in your career!
1. Think before you write. In business writing, preparation is key. Make sure you understand your purpose for writing—are you simply transferring information? Asking a question? Influencing others to take action? Try to stick to the following “50-20-30” formula when drafting a document: Spend 50% of your time planning what you are going to write, 20% of your time writing it, and 30% of your time proofreading and editing it.
2. Visualize your audience. Effective communication only takes place when the reader understands the message the author intended to send. So, take a step back, and ask yourself to read your document through the eyes of someone else – namely, your recipient. While reading, ask yourself how your writing could possibly be misunderstood or misinterpreted. The last thing you want is for your writing to appear ambiguous—or worse, misinterpreted as rude! Clear up any confusion by replacing any complicated phrases/analogies with more precise language.
3. Keep it friendly—just not too friendly. Be sure to use a courteous, conversational tone in your writing, but avoid using emojis, slang, or text abbreviations. This may come across as unprofessional and reflect poorly on your work product or your reputation. Also, avoid inserting jokes, gossip, or your own two-cents into written communication, as it’s often difficult to decipher tone in an email.
4. State your main point first. Then go into details, if necessary. If you’re attempting to describe a process or more complex concept, use bullet points to organize your thoughts. Bonus: Bullet points help to not overwhelm the reader with lengthy paragraphs that they may not even read!
5. Keep it simple and concise. To borrow a piece of advice from author Josh Bernoff, “Treat the reader’s time as more valuable than your own.” Don’t use a complicated word where a simple one will do, and if you can afford to cut out words and phrases without confusing your reader, do so.
6. Avoid jargon. If using business jargon, company acronyms, or academic terms don’t serve a purpose in your writing—delete them! They will simply annoy your reader. And beware of buzzwords (such as impactful, powerful, meaningful) as they don’t really mean anything!
7. Know when to pick up the phone or talk face-to-face. If you have a time-sensitive request or need an answer immediately, written communication may not be your best option. Pick up the phone, or have a conversation in person, if possible. Similarly, if you are wasting time sending back-and-forth emails, pick up the phone to save time for both of you.
8. Read and then re-read. It’s true that proofreading your documents will require extra effort on your part. However, it will make all the difference when you can proudly submit a client proposal error-free, or can successfully send an internal memo without having others repeatedly ask for clarification.
9. Ask for help. Communication skills are vital to workplace success. If you don’t feel confident in your writing skills, seek professional guidance. Ask colleagues to proofread your documents, seek out online resources to help, and check out Careerstone’s new course, Business Writing Matters.