We all know it’s the small things set us apart from the competition: a pressed edge on a collar, an innovative elevator speech, a thoughtful question at the right moment. Giving a general air of competency is essential. Appearing well-educated, confident, and innovative is the hallmark of success.
I am not ashamed to admit that I’ve called businesses to let them know their signs were misspelled. And I’m not the only one who will think twice about hiring someone who can’t keep track of his apostrophes. The ability to write well—that is, to communicate in words exactly what you mean, in a stylish way—can make the difference between success and failure in the business world.
But if writing isn’t your strong suit, how do you distinguish yourself? Here are some top tips on how to improve your writing . Try these and your confidence will soar—along with your impact.
1. Plan Ahead
Have an idea of what you need to say. If it’s a business letter, jot down the subject of each paragraph and any phrases that occur to you. If it’s a report, have all the figures at your fingertips. If it’s an informal email, decide what you want to communicate.
Gather any relevant information, including phone numbers, figures, prior correspondence, and even (if necessary) a sample of the kind of writing you want to create. Being prepared will eliminate dithering about trying to find words and help the overall structure of your writing flow more smoothly. You’ll make more sense to your reader, and may even evade the dreaded writer’s block.
2. Spellcheck is Limited
This isn’t news to anyone. Don’t rely on spellcheck—it’s very likely to make you look stupid. The scan will catch actual misspelled words, but not homonyms (words that sound the same but mean different things), actual misused words, incorrect capitalization, or apostrophes in the wrong places.
Look over your writing before you hit Send—some spellcheck gaffes are funny, and others are tragic. If you aren’t sure on something, either ask a coworker or check online. Which brings us to the next point:
3. Look Online
Do you have a specific grammar question? Look online—you can find the answer to anything there. I recently discovered an amazing page which straightened out for me once and for all the difference between lay and lie.
Tutorials are also available everywhere. Try an interactive game to improve your punctuation, or check out a page on structuring an opinion piece. You can improve your skills in many ways by turning to the World Wide Web.
You don’t have to be at the mercy of an incomplete understanding of grammar. High school English may be a long time ago, but you can educate yourself now and enjoy doing it.
4. When in Doubt, Be Specific
We’ve all read a double-sided piece of nonsense that had us scratching our heads and trying to decide what was actually being said. In the business world (as in academia), this kind of writing is everywhere, like a cloud that obscures the fact that the author really isn’t saying anything.
Stand out by saying exactly what you mean, using specifics. Stop when you’re done. You will seem strong, focused, and energetic in comparison to those who obfuscate the obvious.
Don’t use big words unless they say exactly what you mean—clarity is far more impressive than splashy vocabulary. Explain everything that’s not obvious and support any claim you make. These basic skills will improve your writing more than you might think possible.
5. Go the Extra Mile
Have you ever received an email addressed to your predecessor? How did you feel toward the sender? Avoid gaffes like this by doing your research—find names, gender, spelling, and job titles whenever possible. If necessary, call.
6. Be Creative
Don’t be afraid to branch out. Whenever possible think of unique ways to express yourself, argue your point, or present data. You can stand out as a person by finding your own voice and using it.
Try writing more at home and in your leisure time. Even those who don’t like writing will find it a rewarding practice, and it will definitely impact your business writing. Who knows—you may even discover a hidden talent!
- Start a journal.
- Write a short story.
- Write a long letter to a loved one and send it through snail mail.
- Try a freewriting exercise (set the timer for 5 minutes and write anything that comes to your mind, without editing, until it goes off.)
- Get ideas from your coworkers and competitors to make things interesting.
With a little work and some self-evaluation, you can excel in business writing. Your skills will distinguish you from the horde of your competitors, and you may find increased success as a direct result of your efforts. Good luck!
What tips and tricks allow you to improve your writing? Please share your comments below.
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