Regardless of how good your writing skills are (or how good you think they are), you don’t know it all. Stay sharp and keep learning.
Strong writers draw attention in business, because most people understand that writing is difficult. Some things that we learn in childhood we learned once and that was enough: walking, shampooing, riding a bike. But writing is different. Experienced, skilled writers know that old skills need to be maintained and that there are new techniques to be learned and new ways of looking at what we already know.
Here are four ways we can all become more proficient:
- Be a student of good writing – Read books about writing, take notes, and then review the notes periodically. There are many substantive books about writing for business professionals of all levels, and many journalistic writing books that will be particularly useful to corporate communications and PR people (see the “recommended resources” page on my website). Writing workshops, books, and articles about writing can provide techniques and insight you never learned.
- Read good writing – We are surrounded by bad writing in business — email messages, corporate documents, newsletters — so make a point of taking 20 minutes a day to read a book or a high-quality magazine. That’s where you find the writing you want to emulate. Read novels, biographies, nonfiction, or poetry. If you have trouble sinking into a book, find a collection of short stories, or try the annual collections of articles that are published each year, such as Best Business Writing of 2015 (or Best Sports Writing or Best Science and Nature Writing). Read one, and if you can’t return to it for three weeks, nothing is lost. Pick up where you left off.
- Read as a writer – We read as readers, enjoying the content, but we tend not to read with the eye of a writer. What technique does the writer use to get your attention? How does the writer create graceful writing that you can breeze through? How does the writer make the writing come alive? Look for varied sentence structure and effective use of punctuation, which create fluid writing, and notice the strong verbs and descriptive details that give you vivid images.
- Expand your vocabulary – Use a dictionary (Webster’s or American Heritage) and a thesaurus (Roget’s). A dictionary ensures 1) that the word is spelled correctly, 2) that the word means what you think it does, and 3) that this is the right context in which to use it. Similarly, keep a thesaurus handy because its rich inventory of synonyms will help you pick the precise word that best describes what you are trying to say.
In addition, do crossword puzzles, and take the extra step of writing down words you are not sure about, then look them up later and collect the words and definitions in a file that you name “vocabulary notebook.”
To improve the clarity and efficiency of your email writing be sure to register for our next webinar, June 2nd.
Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available at here at Amazon.com.