Consider how formal your language is—if you’re Slacking a teammate, you might be able to be more relaxed in your tone and word choice than when you’re emailing a client or preparing a presentation for stakeholders. In most professional situations you should skip the emojis and avoid using multiple punctuation marks unless the situation really calls for it. “Rarely is ‘. ’ needed,” Goodfellow says. And don’t write in all caps unless you actually mean to yell.
Ways To Improve Your Writing Skills
Improving your writing skills is essential for successful communication in the workplace. Whether you’re speaking with coworkers or clients, the messages you send need to be clear, concise and free of grammatical errors. Professional writing skills are important in areas as simple as sending an email or as grand as a formal business research paper. In this article, we discuss why writing skills are important, list various types of business writing and provide an in-depth list of steps for improvement.
Polished, professional writing skills make you a better communicator. It’s just as important to clearly communicate your ideas through emails or newsletters as it is in person. Excellent grammar, spelling and verb tense instill confidence in your reader and earn you more credibility as a professional.
Identify your particular weaknesses and strengths
This can be challenging if the only feedback we have received is we “need to improve.” Where to begin? There are so many embedded skills in business writing, so it’s important to understand what is working and what needs improvement.
Separate the information/substance/content of a document from the words that express that information/substance/content. There is the information, and there are the words that express that information. We have to look at these separately to identify strengths and weaknesses.
Reflect on the information contained in your typical documents. Do your readers have the information they need? Is it logically grouped? Does it flow logically? This is the information or substance of your document.
While it’s possible to review your business writing skills, it’s hard to be truly objective because we know the facts of our documents so well and we understand what we are trying to express. A professional business writing assessment, which should always be part of a good business writing course is always the best measurement.
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No matter what you’re writing, taking a last look to check for any typos or mistakes can save you a lot of headaches in the long run. Did you contradict yourself somewhere or leave the verb out of a sentence? Read anything you’ve written out loud if possible. Sometimes things look OK on a screen, but when you try to say them, you realize something’s not right. In a similar vein, you might also print out your writing and correct it on paper, Smith says. Often this is enough to see your writing in a different way, making it easier to spot errors. If the writing has higher stakes or the impression it makes on the reader matters a lot, try to get someone else to read it as well, Goodfellow says.
There are plenty of programs and plug-ins that claim to “fix” your writing, such as WritingProAid, Sapling, Grammarly, and even the spelling and grammar checkers built into word processors. These tools can make it easier to write well, Smith says. But they shouldn’t be your one source of truth. Computer programs tend to miss key context that human readers would understand. “Spell-check can help but there are many words that are ‘correct’ but may not be what you intended,” Goodfellow says.
None of these tools should stand in for a thorough proofread. As a professional editor, I use tools like this to call attention to possible errors, but I always look at their suggestions before accepting them and consider whether they’re actually correct or clear. I also look carefully for errors the tools didn’t catch at all. Computer programs can easily miss homophone mix-ups, tense switches between sentences, incorrect word choice, and other issues. And sometimes you may need to write in a style these tools aren’t programmed to support. For instance, if you’re writing about investing, they might mark stock tickers and common financial abbreviations as errors.
If you’re applying for a writing-heavy job, you may be asked to submit a writing sample along with your application or complete a skills test at some point during the interview process. But you can showcase your writing skills at other stages as well, no matter what kind of job you’re applying to.
In Your Cover Letter
When writing a cover letter (and you should write a cover letter), you’ll want to follow all the same advice as when you’re writing a resume. But cover letters give you more room to really show off your writing skills. Rather than rattling off lists of qualifications you have, use your cover letter to write succinct but persuasive anecdotes that come together to tell a coherent story about why you’re the right person for the job. Choose past experiences that are relevant to the job you want and support your overall narrative. And make sure your sentences and paragraphs flow in a logical way and it’s always clear why information is being included. You can also inject more voice and personality into a cover letter than you can in a resume to give the reader the sense of who you are as a person.
But you’ll still be communicating with your prospective employer via email throughout the process. “Taking the time to craft well-written email responses is a fabulous way to make a solid first impression,” Smith says. “Recruiters and hiring managers will notice a difference between well-thought-out responses vs. rushed comments.”
Remember you’re being evaluated not just for your ability to do a specific job, but for your potential as a teammate. A coworker or direct report who communicates via email in a clear and professional way will make everyone’s work easier in the long run, whereas someone who’s hard to understand in writing might seem like a future headache they’ll have to address—especially if you’ll be communicating with people outside the company through email.
Regina Borsellino is a NYC-based editor at The Muse covering job search and career advice, particularly resume best practices, interviewing, remote work, and personal and professional development. Before joining The Muse, Regina was an editor for InvestorPlace, where she also wrote about topics such as investing and biotech companies. She holds a BA in English language and literature from the University of Maryland and an MFA in creative writing from American University. Find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.