Write Away: Seven Tips for Improving Basic Writing Skills
By Greg Simpson on February 26, 2014
How confident are job seekers about their basic skills? When a recent LHH online poll posed that question, only 28 percent of respondents reported feeling confident in their basic skills, with 24 percent expressing the need to improve their basic writing skills, edging out math (at 20 percent) and computer literacy (19 percent). Studies show a majority of managers would agree, frequently citing poor written communication as one of the skills most lacking in today’s workforce.
Employees often compensate for math deficiencies by relying on calculators and websites (percentage calculators, monetary exchanges, etc.) for solutions. Writing, however, offers no such work-around. Being able to develop a cohesive report, business proposal, sales letter or interoffice communication requires knowledge of basic grammar, usage and punctuation—as well as the ability to develop a clear purpose and organize ideas through precise word choice and sentence variety.
Here are seven tips for elevating the maturity and style of your writing:
- Consider your audience. Know who’s reading your document and why. Does your audience have a high or low level of expertise? Will the readers understand the terminology you’re using or should you explain in more detail?
- Respect the rules. If you’re not sure about how to use punctuation or have a question on grammar, usage or style, visit searchable websites for clarification (Grammar Girl, The Elements of Style, and Guide to Grammar and Writing).
- Hit the books. If you think your writing skills are a bit rusty, consider taking a free, online refresher course (e.g. Crafting an Effective Writer: Tools of the Trade) or enroll in a business writing class at your local community college.
- Know where you’re going. Create a short outline delineating your purpose, your supporting paragraphs, and your conclusion. An outline serves as your GPS—guiding you to your destination.
- Start journaling. Free-writing your thoughts for just 10 minutes a day will increase your comfort level with written expression.
- Break the block. If you’re suffering from writer’s block, pick up a notepad and start jotting down ideas in longhand. Studies show that handwriting engages areas of the brain related to thinking, language and working memory in ways that typing can’t.
- Raise the bar. When editing, combine short, choppy sentences into more complex ones; swap out over-used verbs and adjectives with more dynamic and precise options; and insert transitional words or phrases between sentences or paragraphs. These “finishing touches” enhance readability and the logical flow of thoughts.
Writing is a skill, and like other skills, can only be fully developed through consistent practice. A few simple steps may be all it takes to improve your writing—as well as your career opportunities.
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