(N.B. This article will soon be appearing in the newsletter for the Association for Female Executives of Trinidad and Tobago. I’ll post the link to the newsletter when it’s published.)
Six Tips To Make You A Better Writer At Work
Raise your hand if you think of yourself as a writer. Many of you reading this will probably conjure up images in your mind of people hunched over their laptops writing hundreds of pages of their book a day and keep your hands down. That’s one way of looking at it, but the truth is most of us are writers. If you sit down to send your client an e-mail update at work; if you write a memo for your staff or a report to your manager, you’re a writer. With larger, more specialized writing and editing like an annual report, web site copy, an article or a blog post, you might want to hire a professional writer or copy editor*, but very often, you won’t be able to escape from the responsibility of writing important everyday communications at work yourself. Since the goal of your writing, as with anyone’s, is to communicate, there are important tips you need to know to help you achieve.
As you sit down to write your next memo or e-mail, keep these in mind:
1)Re-read. This sounds incredibly simplistic, but it’s so easy to neglect. Often we dash something off without looking at it again motivated by a belief that we’re in a hurry. Think though of the consequences of ending up with a finished product with embarrassing typos. In some cases, repairing a mistake like an advertisement which has already been printed can also waste a lot of time and effort.
Recently one of our major newspapers published a headline which left many copy editors clutching their chests in a collective panic attack. Many of us saw the headline stating “That’s rediculous” and wondered who had let that slide. How long would it have taken to check that article one more time? How long will it take people to forget that awful error? Re-read!
2) Read it out loud. This relates to Tip#1, but sometimes you may read a piece of writing over to yourself and never notice the errors you might come across if you set yourself to reading it aloud. Some errors just become more obvious when you say them. Exaggerate your enunciation of longer words as well. Spelling mistakes can become more evident then.
3) Keep it simple. “Simplicity doesn’t mean simplicity of thought,” says Kara Blackburn, a lecturer in managerial communication at MIT Sloan School of Management. Some people associate intelligent writing with very formal speech, and that often leads to writers trying to make their language seem sophisticated by using complex words and sentence structure. I often tutored students who wrote like this, and the result was often almost incomprehensible and a chore to read. No one is going to be very impressed with your writing if they can’t understand what you’re saying.
You’re not trying to write fancy literature. Try to use short words rather than the ones with the most syllables. Try to avoid too many complex sentences as well especially if you know good punctuation is not your strong point. Varied sentence length makes easier reading anyway. Don’t be afraid to use simple sentences. Don’t be afraid to use personal pronouns and contractions either. Remember you want people to easily catch your meaning, being a bit more casual helps.
4) Keep reference books handy. Keep a good dictionary and a thesaurus by your side or bookmark some of the great online ones out there. Besides my reference books, I like Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com. A good book on writing style can also be useful. William Strunk’s Jr.’s “The Elements of Style” is a popular choice. Once you have reference materials you like, use them
5) Avoid too much jargon. Forbes writer, Susan Adams advises, “Imagine you’re writing to someone who is smart but not a specialist in your field.” Among your colleagues, talking about turning in the “TMPs” to the “AED” in time for a deadline might make complete sense to you but spouting these abbreviations to someone who doesn’t work with you complicates your writing and can make you seem a bit condescending. Remember Tip #2?
6) Don’t depend solely on spell check. I know you’ve heard this one before, but it bears repeating. I use spell check regularly. As soon as I finish a piece I run it, but by now you must have learned it’s not foolproof. Remember Tip #1! “Defiantly” and “definitely” are both real words, but they don’t mean the same thing. Spell check just makes sure they’re correctly spelled. It doesn’t care if you’re using them incorrectly, but your reader will. You’ll need to go through your writing yourself and make sure your words say what you want them to say.
Keep these tips in mind fellow writers as you go about your day at work, and you’re sure to be able to produce clear, concise and effective written communication. You can do it!
*Bio: Dixie-Ann Belle is a freelance writer and copy editor who has been writing all her life. She is ready to take on those intimidating writing, proofreading and copy editing jobs for your business, so you don’t have to. Talk to her about updating your social media pages as well. (She’s the one who does the tweets for AFETT’s twitter!) Learn more about how she can help you produce strong, effective content for all your writing needs at her website, her Facebook page, her Twitter or through her e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Woman with laptop stock image courtesy of stock images at Freedigitalphotos.net
- Resources stock image courtesy of Stuart Mills at Freedigitalphotos.net
- Editing stock image courtesy of digitalart at Freedigitalphotos.net