Good writing skills are a key asset at every stage of your career, from the moment you write your very first cover letter and CV until your retirement party explains Robert Hosking
This is especially true for administrative professionals who are responsible for a significant amount of written communication on a daily basis. You don’t have to be a published author or hold a degree in comparative literature to be a skilled writer. Sound written communication is advantageous for ambitious administrative professionals at all levels and across a wide range of industries.
Employers obviously place a high value on sharp writing skills. More than two-thirds of salaried jobs require a substantial amount of written communication, according to Grammarly, and major companies spend upwards of US$3 billion (£1.8bn) per year training their employees in order to bring their writing abilities up to scratch.
Whether you’re looking to impress an HR manager, secure a promotion or improve your everyday communication with your boss, colleagues and clients, polishing your writing may be one of the best things you can do. So, how can developing writing skills help you get ahead in business?
Get that job
Effective business writing opens doors. Whether you’re embarking on your chosen career or branching out into a new one, expressing yourself well sets you apart from the crowd. Clear, concise communication always stands out as an impressive credential. By the same token, resumes/CVs and cover letters that contain spelling and grammar errors, or that need to be read twice for comprehension, often go straight to the waste bin.
Strong writing abilities can help you move up the corporate ladder. The Grammarly study noted that fewer grammatical errors correlate with more promotions and, of course, higher salaries. Developing good writing skills may not fast-track you to the CEO’s chair, but it will give you a distinct competitive edge.
In today’s fast-paced, globalised world, many of us rely on emails and text messages to get our professionalism, personality and point across. It’s not uncommon to have active relationships with colleagues or clients we’ve never met in person. The briefest written exchange may charm or harm in a matter of seconds, and could make or break an important relationship. Having good writing skills is one of your best bets to seal your deal — or save your bacon.
It’s natural to feel apprehensive if you know your writing skills need a boost, but you’re not alone. Professionals of all walks, levels and ages are keen to brush up on their written communication. The good news is that writing well, like most things in life, gets easier with practice as quickly as it rusts from lack of use.
Here are five painless tips for honing and developing writing skills:
Many authors claim that to write well, you need to read. But you don’t need to slog through War and Peace. Almost anything will do: business articles, biographies, sci-fi, pop fiction, travel guides, blogs — whatever strikes your fancy. Find a genre, format or writer you like, and get to it.
Ernest Hemingway, when he found a really poignant line or clever turn of phrase in a book he was reading, would write “GETS” (Good Enough To Steal) in the margins. Doing this could prove tricky if you’ve borrowed the book from a friend, but do jot down words or sentences that resonate with you. Many e-readers also allow you to make notes quickly and easily directly on the device.
The wonderful thing about reading is that it sends good writing habits directly to your subconscious. After a few weeks of regular reading, you’ll find that certain vocabulary, constructions and phrases have stuck in your mind. As a result, good writing will become more instinctive and less of a struggle.
2 Get your writer’s six-pack
Writing is exercise. Think of it like practicing a sport or working out at the gym. If you want to strengthen your skills, write as often as possible. You’ll find it much easier to write regularly if you work it into your schedule. If you can designate a slot in your day, or a few times a week, as little as 15 minutes could help you brush up on your skills while carving out a little “you time”. You may like to put finger to keyboard or pen to paper over a morning coffee or evening Cabernet, on the commute to work, or as part of your Sunday morning lie-in.
3 Track and change
If you’re practising your writing, it’s better to let it “breathe” for a day or two and to revisit it, than to edit as you go. If your grammar needs a boost, try writing on a computer and using an automated proofreader like GrammarCheck.me. A cut above your computer’s standard spelling and grammar check function, these tools scan your text for errors and explain them, which can help you monitor your progress. You can also take online or in-person courses. Another way to check the evolution of your skills is to swap texts with a friend or colleague, either someone in the same boat or who’s a better writer than you. If you can take receiving criticism on the chin, you may find it enormously helpful to have such feedback.
4 Keep a journal
Diaries aren’t just for Bridget Jones, and you don’t need a fancy moleskin one, either, though nice paper and pen can make writing a pleasure. You might like to designate a notebook, keep a folder on your desktop, or simply store your daily thoughts on your smartphone or tablet. Keeping a journal can be as simple as writing emails and sending them to yourself, or keeping a Word doc open for your written musings.
Let your feelings flow. See it as a chance to rant, whisper, protest or request without having to open your mouth. The more you write, the more easily inspiration will come and thoughts will flow. Don’t be surprised if you look back a couple of months later and marvel at how much better your writing has become.
5 Note to self
Last but by no means least, after finishing each one of your written business communications, ask yourself the following before sending:
- Is it right for its audience? Always know who the intended recipients are for your words and tailor them accordingly. The language, vocabulary and level of formality will differ depending on the audience.
- Does it get straight to the point? Don’t make the reader have to work hard to find the purpose of your writing.
- Have I used long-winded words or sentences? Aim for simple, direct and active constructions instead of flowery prose that doesn’t contain much substance. Be ruthless in self-editing.
- Have I checked spelling and grammar? Spelling and grammar tools have a lot of value, but don’t let them be your sole means of checking your work.
- Have I reread it at least once? Before sending, try reading it aloud to get a feel for whether the words sound natural.
Whatever your ambition, level or industry may be, developing and honing your business writing skills can only benefit your administrative career. You are never too old, too young or too busy to improve your writing, and the progress you will see will prove infinitely rewarding.”
Grammarly can be found at https://www.grammarly.com/grammar-check