For a very long time, I believed the poor quality of my writing was due to a lack of talent, not skill.
My nickname at work could have easily been TL;DR — "too long, don't read".
I was viewed by colleagues as an ineffective communicator — always presenting too much information, lacking precision and impact. I struggled to be understood.
With a patient and supportive attitude, I learned a number of key skills and along with a commitment to regular practice, I transcended those limitations.
Give me 6 minutes and I'll show you how I improved my professional writing skills and how you can as well!
Step 1: Awareness
What language skill did you develop first?
Was it reading and writing, or listening and speaking?
Listening and speaking are naturally occurring behaviors as old as humanity, over 200,000 years old.
Reading and writing are human inventions, only 5,500 years old.
So why is this important?
How does this help you be a better writer at work?
It's irrefutable evidence that you're born with no natural ability or talent to read or write.
Writing is a skill, that can only be developed through patient, consistent, and focused practice.
Step 2: Planning
The first skill that changed everything for me was planning.
Most of my life, I avoided planning for anything. It felt like a waste of time. I'd "wing it", see what happens, and go with the flow.
Over time, I realized my results consistently failed to match my expectations.
It was the advice of my manager, a highly successful and respected executive, that opened my eyes to the life-changing potential of planning.
As my planning skills improved, so did my professional writing skills — significantly!
"Writing is 80% planning, 20% writing."
— Eugene Yan, Senior Applied Scientist at Amazon, What I Did Not Learn About Writing In School
Always start with a plan ...
Develop a clear understanding of your target audience — the "who" you'll be writing for.
Clarify the desired outcome you want to achieve with your target audience — the "why" of your writing.
Create a high-level outline of key points you want to share with your target audience — the "what" of your writing.
Consider how you'll distribute your writing (e.g., email, presentation, report, social media, text) and how it will influence the structure of your writing — the "how" of it all.
Step 3: Practice
Now you' re ready to write!
Keep your writing simple — less is more!
Below are some impactful tips, along with examples, that show you how.
1. Be Brief and Clear
Captures the audience's attention, creating a more meaningful and memorable impression.
Do not try to anticipate in advance those events that will completely revolutionize society.
Don't try to anticipate revolutionary events.
2. Cut the "Fluff"
Using too many words will lessen the impact of a statement, undercutting its value.
In the event that going out for the purpose of eating with them cannot be avoided, it is necessary that we first go to the ATM, in light of the fact that I am out of cash.
If we must eat out, I'll need cash from an ATM.
3. Choose Simple Words
Words matter! You'll only have seconds to capture (and continue to keep) anyone's attention so you risk losing your audience with overly complicated words.
Don't Use: "as a means of"
Ride a bike as a means of travel around town.
Ride a bike to travel around town.
Think of professional writing skills development as a highly rewarding challenge!
Practice is the critical success factor. It takes clear intention, patience, and persistent effort to build new habits. My strongest advice: find ways to practice, practice, and practice some more.
You'll communicate more effectively and impactfully with colleagues, managers, executives, and customers.
You'll be a more confident and capable professional ideally situated for continuous professional growth.
Key points to keep in mind:
Centre For Journaling: offering daily writing exercises you can follow
Good with Words: free University of Michigan course, focusing on writing & editing
Also, check out these Bytes on professional writing: