Writing provides a permanent record of your activities and the activities of your organization, so it is an important communications tool. Writing is also a way of life in modern organizations, so you must master it to if you want to have a successful career. It is almost impossible to find a professional job description that does not include excellent writing skills.
Good professional writing, like all good writing, is clear and easy to understand. Many people think large, abstract words and phrases sound professional, so they pepper their writing with them, even though these words and phrases are confusing or even pompous. The result is that they lose their readers.
Which would you rather read? That "a reserve of widgets has been retained for future use," or that someone "has created a widget reserve"? The first is not only unclear, it is also redundant (a reserve is by definition for future use) and ungrammatical (you don't "retain" one unless you had it all along). A good rule of thumb is to write the way you speak. No one would ever say that a reserve had been retained for future use.
There are four pillars of good writing: Shortness, Simplicity, Strength and Sincerity.
- Shortness: Don't use 100 words to say what you could in 40. Re-read what you've written and delete any unnecessary words. Unnecessary words are those that add nothing to a sentence. For example, in the sentence: "ask her whether or not she is going," the "or not" is unnecessary. A better way to write the sentence is: "ask her whether she is going."
- Simplicity: Write to express ideas, not to impress people with your vocabulary. Use clear, direct language and short sentences, which are easier to understand. Be sure that every word "tells."
- Strength: Avoid abstractions, which can be ambiguous, tentative and confusing. For example, use "producing" instead of "the production of." Avoid generalities. For example, the sentence "There are many small fractures, as well as innumerable large and small folds" gives very little information. This sentence is much better: "The fractures are one to ten centimeters long and the folds are five to ten meters in wavelength." Use the active voice to strengthen your writing. Avoid words that hedge, such as apparently, ordinarily, in general, most of the time, it seems, overall. These words make a writer look tentative, and do not inspire confidence in readers.
- Sincerity: Be human. Avoid impersonal references, such as "Colleagues, I just want to acknowledge the staff for making the event successful last week." Rather, use something like "Thank you everyone for a wonderful job! The event was a huge success, made possible by your outstanding work." Use emphatics such as capital, bold, underlined or italicized letters sparingly. Be tactful and polite, especially if you are writing a letter or memo. Once it's sent, it is hard to erase. Good business writing is confident, courteous, and sincere. It should also have a professional tone. To achieve this, you should first ask yourself why you are writing the document, who your audience is and what you want your audience to understand.
Good business writing is confident, courteous, and sincere. It should also have a professional tone. To achieve this, you should first ask yourself why you are writing the document, who your audience is and what you want your audience to understand.
Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when considering what kind of tone to use and how to present information in that tone:
- Use appropriate emphasis and subordination
- Use non-discriminatory language
- Stress the benefits for the reader
- Write at an appropriate level of difficulty