Communicating well via written word is more important than ever, when teams are spread around the country or even world, and the majority of our work takes place through email or other forms of written communication. Here are nine tips that will help you improve your professionalism by improving your writing:
1) Don’t Use a $10 Word When a $1 Word Will Do
That means that it’s important not to try to deliberately add in a more complicated word when it’s not needed. Here are some examples of “stuffy” words that sound pretentious and their more succinct counterpart.
|Don’t say||Instead use|
The goal of using words like these is usually to try to make you look smarter, but in fact often you’ll find the opposite effect, that they are just making you look like you’re trying too hard.
2) Avoid “Jargon”
Every company and their industry have their own “buzzwords” which only they know. Keep in mind your audience and try to avoid using abbreviations or terms in written communication that not everyone will recognize. And then, keep in mind the general business words that have become jargony corporate speak, such as “paradigm shift,” “skill set,” “actionable” and “value add.” They’re so overused as to have become meaningless and can make your writing too corporate.
3) Understand the Different Types of Writing and What’s Appropriate for Each One
Sure, you can use abbreviations and emoticons in a text to your friend but you shouldn’t in a work setting. Avoid making your emails too casual, too. Start each one with a salutation and sign it off with your name and contact information. While it can still be more casual than a typed report or other formal communication, remember it is still professional correspondence. Make sure that you are using the right tone, no matter what the communication is.
4) Know Your Audience
This is a related point that means you need to realize whom your communication is intended for. You might send a schedule request to your assistant that is different than one to your boss. But no matter who the intended audience is, keep in mind that emails can be forwarded without your knowledge. Always err on the side of propriety and formality.
5) Once, Twice and Again
There is no substitute for making sure that each communication you write uses proper grammar and spelling. People really do care, and it really will make a difference in their perception of you. If it’s a particularly important piece of written communication, such as an email to department heads, a report or a client proposal, try to put some time between writing it and sending it. One trick that works well is to finish your writing at the end of the day and then spend a few minutes first thing in the morning giving it one more look. It’s very easy to become so close to your writing that you see things that aren’t there, words you might have missed, or punctuation that you thought was there. Reading your writing with fresh eyes will help those details jump out at you. While you’re at it, make sure to always double-check the “to” line of your email to ensure that details of your early morning squabble with your roommate are going only to your BFF and not your entire department.
6) Let Your Reader Know What You Want Them to Do
Another important part of written communication is ensuring that your reader knows the action they are supposed to take, if any. This is especially important for emails — do you need a reply or was it solely for their information? Is there a due date by when you need additional information?
7) Don’t Write Too Much
Too much information can be overwhelming and obscure the key point you are trying to make. Remember that many people may be reading your email or report on their mobile phone or tablet, so while you don’t want to fall into text-like abbreviations, you also don’t want to make it too hard for them to find the most important parts of the communication. A good tactic is to start your piece with a summary and a call to action, letting them know what you hope they will do with the information. Then, you can continue with the email or report, knowing you have given them a sneak peek of what you’ll be covering, which will make clear your intentions for them. You also can relate a concise version of the information you are sharing, and append background details they can read if they are interested.
8) Make Use of Formatting
It’s much easier to read something that’s bulleted or numbered than many long paragraphs. Whenever possible, use formatting techniques like bullets to make it easier for your reader to scan your message or document.
9) Use the “Inverted Pyramid”
This is a technique used by journalists that means that you put the most important information first. Read through a newspaper and notice how they do this: the first paragraph typically gives all the key information and then subsequent paragraphs have supporting points, usually in order of importance. They do this because they know that not everyone will finish an article so they want the key pieces of information readily accessible. Even though you hope that your readers will read every word of your wonderfully crafted piece, chances are that they might not, so put the key points right up front. For example, if you are sending out a meeting note, let them know the logistics of the meeting, as well as any action items that pertain to them, before you list out the other purposes and agenda items. You want to grab them with what is most pertinent right up front.
Many times the only impression people have of you is what you write. Making sure your communication is professional and compelling paints a positive picture of you.
by Cathie Ericson