Why is Clear Writing a Key Business Skill?
Learning to write in a clear way was a standard part of almost every junior school curriculum in decades past (even if many of the students struggled to ever achieve excellence in this subject). However, the time and focus teaching this skill has diminished considerably in recent years and by most accounts standards in writing have correspondingly fallen. In some ways, this is an odd situation which has resulted in the few professional writer, proofer and editor jobs (especially in business) greatly diminishing while at the same time, everyone has been increasingly expected to communicate much more than ever before in writing via their computer, laptop, tablet or other electronic device. In other words, we have democratized the writing task completely and in so doing clarity of message has become even more important than ever.
Although writing even short messages fills many people with dread, doing so in clear and meaningful ways is a much simpler task than most people realize and actually consists of only six broad guidance rules we need to apply as follows:
1. Consider your audience
Even excellent writing rarely appeals to every audience and it is therefore the writer’s job to think about who will read what they are sending out-are they knowledgeable about your subject?, are the words used age or skill appropriate?, is your tone well-matched to expectations? Does your message deal with any questions about your subject that this particular audience is likely to have?
2. Lay out your communication story
Where it’s a short email, social media posting, memo, long report, blog piece or presentation, every communication should have a story. This story should have a simple flow containing the set up-why are you writing this communication, what is the detail of what you are saying (in as logical a flow as possible) and a final summary describing what do you want people to do with the information. In simple terms this is a 3 part story with clear opening scene setter, middle and summarizing end.
3. Be brief and succinct
In every communication, prior planning on what you need to say, why and how will help to keep the message short and to the point. In emails, and memos, sentences and paragraphs can be kept short and pithy, and in blog posts, presentations and reports, structure the documents so that individuals know what you will cover (give them a road map) and put any really detailed information in the appendices.
4. Choose the right words (for the most part short ones)
Although the words used in any communication will depend on the subject and the audience, greater clarity is brought about by using a simple word or phrase in place of complicated/long ones (and especially jargon that might go over the head of some individuals). It often helps here to think about a 10-15 year old you may know and write with him/her in mind.
5. Write in a compelling/enthusiastic way
Many messages are written in dull or plodding ways with a few facts presented in pedestrian and uninteresting fashion. This does little to help a reader finish a document or act upon it. All messages should therefore be crafted to present the information with enthusiastic language and in ways that compel individuals to respond (even if it’s only to support your points). This could even include one or two good analogies and metaphors, where appropriate.
6. Re-read and edit before sending (and check for spelling errors and poor grammar)
So many communications today (even in formal published documents such as newspapers and magazines and reputable blogging sites) have poor punctuation, grammar and spelling mistakes in them. A little editing and proofing is all that is needed to ensure that your readers are not distracted and that the core message you wished to communicate is as clear as it could be.
If your readers don’t understand what you write in any format (email, memo, report, presentation etc.), you may have wasted your time and might as well have written nothing at all. A few extra minutes ensuring that everything you write is as clear as possible will make all the difference in the world.