How good are your writing skills? That might seem like an odd question to put to a techie. After all, you are hired for your technical savvy, not your prose, right?
Well, yes and no. In today’s business environment you are expected to have a broad variety of aptitudes to make a good job of your work. And that includes communication skills.
Being able to write well – whether it is an email, a report, source code, documentation for software – is not only a nice-to-have skill, it is a skill you are expected to have in most professional settings.
Here are a few tips to get you started on the road to becoming a technical wordsmith:
Key Message should be Front and Center
Before putting pen to paper, be sure about what it is that you want to communicate.
What is the key message that you need your recipient to hear loud and clear? Start with that and stay close to it. In business, and in life, most of us do not have the time to read long texts that take forever to get to the point.
Be guided by this: if your audience – whoever they are – only read the first few lines of what you write, are they going to get your big idea? Look at what you have written. If you do not make your point in the first paragraph, get editing and make sure you get to the point right away.
Know Your Audience
Who are you addressing? Writing to a colleague, boss, or client is not the same thing. Be careful with your tone and always try to put yourself in the shoes of the person who will read what you have written. Did you make your message clear? Have you provided all the details necessary?
It is easier than it might seem to cause offence or strike the wrong chord without meaning to. Be very careful to avoid using language that might be overly familiar, discriminatory, disrespectful, or even profane.
It might seem obvious, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid using words that carry bias based on gender, sexual orientation, race, age, or disability. And that can be as simple as not using the masculine generic – “business executive” avoids unintended issues that “businessman” might cause.
Think of it like this – personal opinion versus professional opinion. In the workplace, stick to the latter.
Less is More
Remember how you started off with your big idea up front? Well, try to keep the rest of your communication as succinct as possible.
State your key message. Affirm it. Include all relevant information. Close with a call to action or a word of thanks.
Tempting as it might be to include every detail, or to want to impress your reader, wandering off-script will oftentimes backfire. Aim for clarity and speed. Your main objective is to communicate something clearly and fast. And that also means avoiding complicated terms and vocabulary as much as possible.
Grammar, Grammar, Grammar
Given you did not major in literature. That is still no excuse for poorly constructed sentences or spelling mistakes. Knowing how to put together proper sentences is critical, no matter your job title.
Some basic rules:
- Avoid things like the passive voice. “Follow the protocols” is more powerful than “protocols should be followed.”
- Keep sentences short and assertive.
- Check your spelling—every time.
- Be mindful of your punctuation use.
Generally speaking, keeping your sentences and paragraphs short will help you keep control of your grammar.
Proofread – Always
Read it aloud before sharing. Trust us. This is always a good idea.
No matter how long you have been in your role, nor how many emails or reports you write on a regular basis, taking the time to read a text back to yourself, or to a colleague, usually brings any errors or typos to light.
Pausing before you hit send – however you choose to do it – can save you a world of problems further down the line.
Writing well is a key professional aptitude to prioritize; and one that you should aim to keep on improving over time.
After all, if your ideas are worth sharing, the least you can do is ensure they are shared well and understood.