How — and why — to improve your written communications

Close-up of male fingers typing a business document on the black laptopBy Robert Half International 

What do the most effective résumés, memos, emails, blog posts and thank-you notes have in common?
Good writing.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a designer, accountant, paralegal or IT professional, you should also consider yourself a writer. In an information-driven world full of communication platforms, writing skills are a “must have,” not a “nice to have,” for any ambitious professional.
Sure, business writing isn’t the sexiest of topics. But knowing how to communicate clearly, concisely and convincingly can significantly aid your career. Whether you’re sending a cover letter to a hiring manager or an email to a prospective client, people’s first impressions of you are often based solely on your writing abilities — or lack thereof.
Crisp, focused and error-free writing signals that you’re a professional who’s organized, knowledgeable and detail-oriented. On the flip side, communications that are convoluted, imprecise or marred by typos will leave readers wondering if you’re equally careless in other areas of your work.
Writing not your forte? Consider adopting these winning habits:
Think before you type
First-rate writing doesn’t happen by accident. Before placing one finger on the keyboard, take a moment to organize your thoughts and identify the primary purpose of the communication. Who is your audience? And what do you want people to know or do when they finish reading? Keep the answers to these questions top of mind as you write.
Embrace plain English
You’ve no doubt noticed that many professionals weigh down their written communications with buzzwords, jargon and pretentious prose. This approach only muddles the message. (What does, “Let’s mindshare to align and synergize our deliverables” really mean anyway?)
Impress readers with your cogent thinking, not your mastery of corporate-speak. Nobody will miss the overused clichés and fussy five-dollar words.
Cut to the chase
“Don’t bury the lead” is one of the first warnings every journalism student receives. Translation: Provide the most important details upfront.
In an era of information overload, attention spans are getting shorter. You risk losing people if they have to endlessly sift or scroll to unearth your main message.
When crafting more involved documents, make the content easy to digest through formatting. Break up large blocks of text with bullet points or subheadings.
Proofread and polish
Think proper spelling, grammar and punctuation isn’t critical? Think again. In a Robert Half survey, 76 percent of managers said just one or two résumé errors would be enough to knock a job candidate out of contention. While the occasional misplaced comma in an everyday email isn’t going to hurt your career, frequently making sloppy mistakes will damage your credibility.
Review all your written communications — including social media updates — for typos, as well as tone and clarity. Sure, it requires a little extra effort, but proofreading guards against embarrassing goofs and time-wasting miscommunications.
Keep working at it
Employers expect solid writing abilities for an increasing number of roles. This means that shying away from writing responsibilities or remaining complacent with subpar skills is a risky career move.
Invest in yourself by taking a business-writing course through a local college or industry association. Explore some of the myriad writing workshops offered online and read some well-regarded books. (“On Writing Well” by William Zinsser and “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White are classics.)
Most importantly, push beyond your comfort zone and keep practicing. For example, you might volunteer to draft the meeting notes from your next staff meeting or contribute a piece to the company newsletter. Much like muscles, writing skills get stronger only if you use them.

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