You write every day.
Your words are often the first contact you have with someone. And in some cases, they are the only way a person knows you. Yikes!
But you actually haven’t given much thought to your writing. It gets the job done. It got you through university. An MBA, possibly. Even a Ph.D., maybe. It got you a great job. It’s good enough.
You’re busy. You’re in meetings half the day. Launching products, managing people, solving problems. But how much time do you spend writing every day? If you’re like most people you spend at least 40 to 50% of your work time just dealing with your inbox. Think about that for a second.
Emails alone take up a massive amount of your time and attention. You’re reading them, writing them, possibly re-reading them, thinking about them, or avoiding them. It’s true. And many of us have unread emails in our inboxes, in the hundreds. Do you ever worry that your emails are sitting unread in someone else’s inbox?
And that is only a small portion of the writing we do in the course of our day. We write contracts and agreements and marketing materials and training materials. We write procedures and policies and reports and presentations. We write performance evaluations and proposals and non-disclosure agreements. Minutes and agendas and speeches. And on and on and on. That’s what we do if we’re in business.We write.
Here’s the problem though. Very few of us have been taught how to write for the real world. For business. We’re taught to write for the teacher. For the A+. For the Ph.D. thesis. We’re taught to write correctly, following all the rules and showcasing every bit of knowledge we have. But that’s not good business writing. Business writing has nothing to do with proper sentence structure. It has to do with relationships, connecting, trust, clarity, and action.
(This article would land a failing grade based on how “correct” it is. I’m not writing for my high school English teacher though. I only care about getting my message read and understood…by you. Is it clear…to you? Is it easy to read…for you? Get it?)
The sad reality is that, for the most part, especially in industries where science and business come together, unclear writing is the norm. Too much jargon. Too many fancy words. Too many long and winding sentences. The norm. Have a look around. It ain’t pretty.
So what do you need to do?
How can yours be the email that gets read and acted upon? How can you be the one who gets the contract? How can you be the one who addresses the small issue with the customer before it results in bigger problems? How can you have the most productive team? How can your website be the one that people stay on? How can you be the one who gets noticed? How can your company be the leader in the industry? How? How? How?
Well, maybe you’ve tried some things already. Maybe you read a lot. That’s always a good thing and is probably the number one thing that helps your writing. Keep doing that! Maybe you’ve even read some books about writing. Maybe you’ve pushed yourself to study the rules of grammar so that you are confident your writing is grammatically correct. Maybe you’re diligently using a grammar checker and then doing a fair bit of finger-crossing as you press “send”. Or maybe until now you didn’t really think of it as a problem. So, think about it.
Think about the time saved by clear writing. Think about the mistakes avoided due to misunderstandings resulting from fuzzy writing. Or think about the cost of unclear writing. Maybe that’s a better way to look at it. Think about the lost contracts, the lost deals, the relationships turned sour, the lawsuits, the unhappy customers, the amazing employee who got away, the poorly trained lab tech, the failed audits, the missed deadlines, the lapsed product licence, the time spent re-reading and head scratching (then calling up and then meeting). Hours upon hours of lost time. And lost opportunities. It impacts the bottom line. It really does. Seriously, think about it.
Good communication should be part of your business strategy. It’s as simple as that. It’ll set you apart from the competition if you and your team know how to write.
Do you trust people who are vague and a bit fuzzy and confusing and unclear on their message? I don’t. If your writing is clear, there will be greater trust all around. And that’s just smart business.
If you are serious about improving your business – and your life, really – (by improving your writing), it’s a matter of three steps:
1. Learn the Principles of Plain Language Writing
· Understand the principles of plain language
· For everything you write, there’s an audience: a reader, an end user. Know who this is. Know what they know. Know what they don’t know. Know what sort of attitude they have about you, your business, or your product. Do they have to be convinced? Do they already know a lot about you? Know your audience!
· For everything you write, there’s a reason: to share information, to train someone, to get someone to buy something, to get someone to buy into an idea, to seal a deal, to come to an agreement, to complain, to apologize, to give instructions. Whatever it is, know why you are writing. Know your purpose!
· For everything you write, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Do your research. Know your product. Know your market. Know your field. Know your area of expertise. Know what you’re doing!
2. Learn the tools of Plain Language Writing
· Know what it takes to be clear, concise, and effective
· Know how to play around with word choice and sentence structure to give your words more power
· Know how to make it easy for the reader to read, understand, remember, and act on your message
3. Develop a writing process that incorporates the principles and tools of Plain Language
· Learn how to plan and organize your writing
· Learn how to use storytelling (yes, even in regular, boring old, work writing)
· Learn how to summarize and get to the point
· Learn how to clean up your writing before it’s time to send
If you write well, you will stand out. Guaranteed. You will be remembered. Guaranteed. Your relationships will flourish. Your business will flourish. Things will happen. It’s all good!
Thanks for reading!