I’ve been a “professional writer” for nine years. I should be able to effortlessly crank out the words by now, right? Well, if we’re being completely honest with each other, I’ve spent 15 minutes on this intro alone. It’s a slog. Every. Time.
Writing is a hard skill to master (and that’s coming from someone who does this for a living). And just when you think you’ve got it, you find yourself staring at an ugly first draft, wondering where the magic went.
But here’s the good news: you don’t need to master it. No one expects literary quality from your briefs and emails. In fact, if you’ve done it well, no one will notice your writing.
In business writing, you have a simple goal: to clearly and concisely share your message. You’re not going to begin a quarterly earnings report with, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Unless you’re an aspiring business novelist (Eliyahu Goldratt, anyone?), you can leave the prose to Dickens.
When I give this spiel to fellow office dwellers, it’s sometimes met with an apathetic, “Well, I’m not a writer, so it doesn’t matter.”
Hold up, I say. How many emails, IMs, briefs, and memos have you written today? Tweets? Facebook posts? Text messages? That’s what I thought.
You may not have the job title, but I’m willing to wager that you spend at least an hour or two every day writing.
For project managers, solid writing skills become even more important. The success or failure of your project hinges on your communication skills.
It’s likely that a majority of your team communications are via email, IM, or comments. In the past, how many times have you gone back and forth with people who didn’t say what they meant the first time around? How many hours have you wasted trying to decipher poorly written status updates?
Project managers also need to write important documents like project proposals and charters, training documents, plans, and reports. Considering these documents build the foundation of a project, writing plays an important role in successful execution.
Here are six easy techniques you can use to improve your writing skills.
Sometimes we panic when we’re presented with that blank page. Just get it out, we think, as we furiously type away. What’s left is a messy brain dump of a document. While that’s a great way to kickstart your writing, it’s not a great experience for the reader.
Those extraneous details muddy the waters, and the reader walks away confused. That’s how balls get dropped, deadlines are missed, and miscommunication happens.
Before you begin writing, answer these three questions:
If you can’t immediately answer these questions, you’ll need to take a step back and collect your thoughts. Everything you write should have a clear audience and purpose.
In school, we’re taught to spend our first four to five sentences warming up the reader. We then hit them with our main point at the end of the intro. While that format may have impressed your eighth grade English teacher, it’s not going to impress a hurried executive.
Instead, begin with your main point. Dedicate your first paragraph to a quick summary of the situation and the proposed solution if you’re writing longer memos. For emails, use the first sentence to summarize why you’re writing and what you’re trying to accomplish.
If you’re unsure, ask a colleague to read your email and summarize your message in two to three sentences. If he or she can’t do that easily (or gets it wrong), you’ll need to answer the three questions above and work on clarifying your message.
I once had a boss who was a former magazine editor. She was absolutely ruthless. When she’d return my articles, it looked like someone had squeezed a pomegranate onto the page. Red. Everywhere.
Her biggest pet peeve was needless words: very, like, that, in order to, suddenly.
The folder that you need is on my desk.
I’m reading the report in order to prepare for my meeting.
It’s very important to be on time tomorrow.
She taught me how to tighten my sentences by removing the unnecessary. Cut these filler words and your writing will immediately improve.
A word that once had so much meaning is now carelessly thrown around in business communications.
I mean, just look at this graph. From 1980 to now, the use of “empower” in publications has tripled.
Data from Google Ngram Viewer
Business writing is full of words like this:
While these terms are sometimes accurate for the situati...
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