Improve your writing skills
with James Manktelow & Amy Carlson.
A colleague has just sent you an email relating to a meeting you're having in one hour's time. The email is supposed to contain key information that you need to present, as part of the business case for an important project.
But there's a problem: The email is so badly written that you can't find the data you need. There are misspellings and incomplete sentences, and the paragraphs are so long and confusing that it takes you three times more than it should to find the information you want.
As a result, you're under-prepared for the meeting, and it doesn't go as well as you want it to.
Have you ever faced a situation similar to this? In today's information overload world, it's vital to communicate clearly, concisely and effectively. People don't have time to read book-length emails, and they don't have the patience to scour badly-constructed emails for "buried" points.
The better your writing skills are, the better the impression you'll make on the people around you – including your boss, your colleagues, and your clients. You never know how far these good impressions will take you!
In this article, we'll look at how you can improve your writing skills and avoid common mistakes.
The format, as well as your audience, will define your "writing voice" – that is, how formal or relaxed the tone should be. For instance, if you write an email to a prospective client, should it have the same tone as an email to a friend?
Start by identifying who will read your message. Is it targeted at senior managers, the entire human resources team, or a small group of engineers? With everything you write, your readers, or recipients, should define your tone as well as aspects of the content.
Once you know what you're writing, and for whom you're writing, you actually have to start writing.
A blank, white computer screen is often intimidating. And it's easy to get stuck because you don't know how to start. Try these tips for composing and styling your document:
Your document should be as "reader friendly" as possible. Use headings, subheadings, bullet points, and numbering whenever possible to break up the text.
After all, what's easier to read – a page full of long paragraphs, or a page that's broken up into short paragraphs, with section headings and bullet points? A document that's easy to scan will get read more often than a document with long, dense paragraphs of text.
Headers should grab the reader's attention. Using questions is often a good idea, especially in advertising copy or reports, because questions help keep the reader engaged and curious.
In emails and proposals, use short, factual headings and subheadings, like the ones in this article.
Adding graphs and charts is also a smart way to break up your text. These visual aids not only keep the reader's eye engaged, but they can communicate important information much more quickly than text.
You probably don't need us to tell you that errors in your document will make you look unprofessional. It's essential to learn grammar properly, and to avoid common mistakes that your spell checker won't find.
Here are some examples of commonly misused words:
To learn more about commonly misused words, misused apostrophes, and other grammatical errors, take our Bite-Sized Training session on Written Communication.
Some of your readers – arguably an increasing number – won't be perfect at spelling and grammar. They may not notice if you make these errors. But don't use this as an excuse: there will usually be people, senior managers in particular, who WILL notice!
The enemy of good proofreading is speed. Many people rush through their documents, but this is how you miss mistakes. Follow these guidelines to check what you've written:
More than ever, it's important to know how to communicate your point quickly and professionally. Many people spend a lot of time writing and reading, so the better you are at this form of communication, the more successful you're likely to be.
Learn new career skills every week, plus get our Communicate at Your Best workbook, worth $19.99, free when you subscribe!
With the Mind Tools Club, you get much, much more than you do here for free.
And we'll give you the 4 workbooks above when you join!
Learn on the move with the free Mind Tools iPhone, iPad and Android Apps. Short bursts of business training ideal for busy people.
Useful free tools from the Mind Tools site, brought together into easily downloadable, easily printable PDFs.