We may, at long last, be on the way to a paperless office, and e-mails and tweets might have replaced office memos, but that doesn’t mean clear writing is a last century skill.
In fact, it’s more important than ever. If you’ve ever seen how a rather innocuous e-mail exchange can suddenly transform into a firefight, then you’ve seen a real-time demonstration of the importance of clear writing.
Try putting the following keys to clear writing into practice, and while I can’t promise no more workplace misunderstandings, I’ll wager you have fewer.
You might also find it less painful to write genuinely professional prose, and that’s important if you want to be a genuine professional.
1. Clear writing is clear thinking. This is about the most important tip I can think of. I find that the toughest things for me to write are things I haven’t thought through, or things I don’t really get. It may be painful, but straighten out the twists and turns in your head first, and you’ll communicate better with others.
2. Know what you want to say, and then say it. It sounds simple, but you probably know simple isn’t always easy. Just the same, if you can do this, your writing will stand out – in a good way.
3. Don’t get tangled up in your own words. Certain common phrases will just wrap themselves around you, like an unruly dog on a leash. Next thing you know, you’re stumbling all over, trying to get out of the verbal mess you’ve led yourself into.
Here’s an example – Starting out an e-mail with the word “Attached,” as in “Attached are the documents you wanted to see before the deadline which is…” See what I mean? Start off with the word “Attached” and you’re doomed to back up and trip all over yourself. How much easier and more clear it is to write something like this, “The documents you wanted to see are attached.”
This leads me to two more key points…
4. Use the active voice. Look at our previous example and compare “Attached are” and “The documents are.” Once you start using the passive voice, you’re more likely to back yourself into a corner and trip over your own feet. Imagine your words marching like little ants right to the person you want to reach. Ants don’t sidle sideways, loop around or go backwards. Neither should your writing.
5. Avoid formulaic approaches. Neither you nor your audience probably understand why you’re using them anyway. Once again, see my pet peeve, “Attached are”…
6. And, last for now, but certainly not least, remember this – spell check is not enough. Take it from me.
by Danielle Dresden