I’ve held several positions in which my primary responsibility was writing. I’ve been a writing tutor, a writing consultant, an editor, a blogger, a copywriter, a content writer—and, of course, I was a student for 16 years. I recently joined The Alexander Group as a Marketing and Communications Associate, another role that requires me to spend time and effort manipulating the written word.
I enjoy writing, at least most of the time. As a person who frequently finds her foot in her mouth, I often find written communication preferable to speaking: You can’t “control-Z” your last sentence in a face-to-face conversation. But I recognize that many people feel the same way about writing as I feel about talking to strangers on the phone or analyzing numbers in spreadsheets—they find it unpleasant, difficult, and tedious. In fact, the most common response I hear when I talk about writing is “I hate writing.”
Although I disagree, I understand that sentiment. Writing can be difficult, high-pressure, time consuming, confusing, and worse than any of its other faults combined, boring.
Nonetheless, writing well is a skill that any employee, entry-level or C-level, should constantly refine. Effective writing saves businesses time and money. FedEx, for example, reported saving $400,000 in one year simply by making their operations manual more reader-friendly, thus reducing the time employees spent searching for an answer. And a recent study of LinkedIn profiles found that, over a 10-year period, professionals who made fewer grammatical errors received twice as many promotions.
So if you think you hate writing, keep reading. These five tips may not transform you into Hemingway, but your next report will undoubtedly be easier to write than your last one.
Think Before You Write.
If you loathe writing, the task could be much less stressful if you spend more time planning. Before you construct an email, report, or memo, give yourself a blueprint. Who is your audience? Why are you writing? What do you want to communicate? If you don’t have a map to guide your writing process, you will inevitably encounter mental roadblocks or run out of gas before you reach your destination. Take a moment to think and jot down some notes before you begin.
Lower Your Standards…
As a writing consultant, I met with plenty of students who could converse with me about their assignment, explain their thesis, and walk me through each of their supporting paragraphs—but when it was time to put pen to paper, they froze. Perfectionists in particular find it difficult to assemble a sentence without repeatedly deleting or erasing. If the thoughts in your head make sense, but you can’t bring yourself to put them on paper, set a timer for five minutes and just write freeform. Type out your thoughts, no matter how disorganized, instead of sitting at your keyboard paralyzed. Alternatively, you can record yourself having a conversation—either with a colleague or with yourself—about what you want to write, and then transcribe it. Sometimes the most difficult part of the writing process is putting those first words on a piece of paper. Even if your initial draft is messy and unpolished, it’s a better start than a blank page.
…And Then Raise Them Again.
Writing isn’t just about getting all your ideas out there—it’s about presenting them in a clear, concise, and appropriate manner. Start with higher-level revisions by addressing clarity, organization, tone, and brevity. Rearrange your sentences so that they flow in a logical progression and introduce transitions between your paragraphs. Then tackle sentence-level issues like grammar, word choice, and spelling. If you think you’re finished editing, re-read one more time to make sure you didn’t make any unfortunate mistakes, like leaving the “l” out of “public accounting,” a mishap that TAG will never make again. For formal reports and longer pieces of writing, read the finished product aloud and have a colleague look over it.
Step Away From the Computer.
Any time I spend more than an hour working on a writing project, I hit a wall. When you find yourself reading the same sentence over and over or deleting five words for every three you type, go do something else. Move on to another task, eat a snack, or take a nap. When you resume writing, you will feel refreshed and have new perspective.
Become an Active Reader.
Reading is one of the best and easiest ways to improve your writing skills if you practice being an engaged reader. Read Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, or the New York Times every morning, and take note of what you enjoy and dislike about each article. Observe the author’s tone and the progression of his or her thoughts. Are the sentences short and too choppy? Long, verbose, and hard to follow? Paying close attention to other authors’ writing styles will make you more aware of your own.
Photo credits: Villanova Writing Center, Come Recommended LLC, Communicaid