Unless you are a freelance writer and pen words for a living, you probably haven’t given ‘how to improve your professional writing skills’ much thought. Most of us are adequate writers and get along just fine by making use of spellcheck and the 3rd-grade grammar rules we still remember.
I before e except after c, right?
But what if you were told that business writing skills, or lack thereof, could significantly affect your rise up the career ladder? Read on to find out why being able to write well is still so important and how you can sharpen this ability in just 3 simple steps.
Why Does it Matter? Writing = Communication
The act of communication is usually linked with talking. After all, our words are the main way we share thoughts, feelings, and ideas with one another. However, there are other types of communication as well.
The nonverbal eye roll, the irritated sigh, and even the classic ‘I’m bored’ yawn we let out in meetings are all forms of communication. So are the ideas that we write down on paper, send through a text, or shoot out in an e-mail.
If you have weak writing skills, you have poor communication skills, plain and simple.
This isn’t to say that ‘talk is cheap.’ You need to be able to express yourself verbally at work. When this ability is paired with excellent professional writing skills, the options for promotion and achievement are endless.
Other reasons why you should strive to improve your business writing abilities:
- You’ll snag better jobs since you’ll be able to craft a strong cover letter and resume.
- Employers will see you as more intelligent and credible.
- Influencing others will come a lot easier than it did before.
- You’ll be able to build trust and rapport with people quickly.
- Your organization and record keeping skills will improve.
- You will feel a boost in confidence.
- Standing out amongst your co-workers will happen naturally.
- More (professional) doors will open for you.
Most of all, improving your communication skills will help you get your thoughts across to others in a way that will make a real difference.
1) Brush Up on Your Basic Writing Skills
If you’ve ever studied for a test without knowing foundational knowledge, you know how hard it is to succeed without strong fundamentals. The same is true for writing. If you’re wondering how to improve your professional writing skills, the best place to start is square one.
You have a couple of options here.
If you’re into e-Learning, try a quick Google search for free online business writing courses. Shopping around on Amazon or used bookstores for business writing or general writing textbooks/workbooks is also a good option.
Night classes, professional development courses, and workshops are other good starting points for ‘refreshing your memory’ of some of the simpler concepts. You might learn some new things as well!
2) Hone in Your on a Specific Skill
Once you’ve improved your all-around writing skills for the workplace, you’ll want to pick one or two skills to work on. Although this might seem counter-productive, in the grand scheme of things, making small improvements can be a game-changer. This is the case in any field.
Let’s take a professional basketball player for example. During training camp, Lebron James and his teammates work on a variety of skills. Early on his career, he needed to work a lot on the basics, such as perimeter defense and shooting three-point shots. Now, Lebron is considered one of the greatest to have ever played the game, but that doesn’t mean he’s perfect.
If you asked a group of sports experts what they consider Lebron James’s weakness to be on the court, free-throw shooting is an answer that would probably come up once or twice. Making technical free throws is something the star athlete seems to struggle with (his average is a little under 80%). Obviously, this is something that he knows and works on during personal training time.
It is important for you to find your own weaknesses when it comes to writing and work on these areas as much as you can. Maybe you tend to write in passive voice instead of active or struggle with wordiness.
Possible areas of growth when trying to improve your professional writing skills for the workplace include:
- Setting a purpose for what you plan to write.
- Organizing your writing
- Writing for your target audience.
- Using clear and concise language.
- Choosing the right tone.
- Word choice
- Adapting to different platforms
- Grammar and punctuation
- Avoiding confusion when you write.
- Steering clear of plagiarism.
- Focusing while writing.
Make a note to work on one or two of these trouble spots a week, and before long, you (and those who read what you write) will see great improvement.
3) Avoid Common Pitfalls
A common cliché dictates that a smart man learns from his own mistakes while a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. This saying has a lot of truth to it, especially when we relate it to the workplace. There is no room for repetitive mistakes in business if you are trying to advance to the next level.
Of course, perfection isn’t always obtainable, but learning from the mishaps of others when it comes to professional skills can put you ahead of the game.
Here are some common business writing pitfalls to avoid:
a) Using buzzwords and acronyms when you write:
Every field has jargon and buzzwords that are personal to what they do. Teachers talk about IEPS and brain breaks while tech gurus are likely to mention AI and API.
We often get so comfortable using these kinds of buzzwords and acronyms that we assume everyone knows what they mean. This can lead to a breakdown of communication in the workplace. Make sure the documents you create contain explanations for abbreviations and are jargon-free. Doing so will improve not only the quality of your work but also your readers’ understanding.
b) Talking about lots of things in one e-mail:
This is one that a lot of us are guilty of. Because our world focuses on getting as many things done at one time as possible, it is natural to want to get all that you have to say across with one click.
However, when it comes to business e-mails, you should try to stick to one topic per message. This will help your reader do two things: understand what you’re trying to say much easier and stay organized.
c) Delivering bad news through written communication:
Although sending emails or texts to communicate important news is becoming more and more common, you should avoid doing this if you feel what you have to say is bad or might upset the reader.
If you need to provide feedback that isn’t all positive, lay someone off, or make a switch in roles, do it in person. No amount of improvement to your professional writing skills will help you address these types of issues through e-mail. Some things are better-said face-to-face.
d) Using ‘texting language’ or ‘slang’ when communicating through writing:
Every area of the country has it’s own lingo so to speak when it comes to verbal communication. In the South, it isn’t uncommon to hear someone say “hey, ya’ll” or “what ya’ll doing?” Communication experts consider a lot of these ‘errors’ as part of dialect, but that doesn’t mean it is appropriate for business writing for all audiences.
Similarly, ‘WYD,’ emojis, and other text-talk shouldn’t be a part of your professional writing or e-mails, unless your office culture permits it. It’s important to be able to make the switch when it comes to your work. Always write in a way that comes off as both professional and credible.
e) Writing at the last minute:
There is a reason why we have first and second drafts—the first draft usually belongs in the trash can. Proofreading and editing are an important part of the writing process because it is almost impossible to get a document, e-mail, letter, or blog right the first time.
Waiting to send out an e-mail on Friday at 4:50 when you’re ready to rush out the door will greatly increase your chance of typos. Creating a post for social media Sunday night (right before it is due) could lead to embarrassment if something is ‘off.’ If at all possible, give yourself some time between crafting a message and actually hitting send or submit.
Looking at it a second time with a fresh pair of eyes will help you improve your professional writing skills and convey the right message.