The increase in remote working this year has led to constant talk of virtual meetings, online presence, technology solutions and so on. Much less mention has been made of a skill we use every day, essential for professional collaboration, particularly when we don’t share the same office space. I’m talking about writing, of course, and now that so many of us are working remotely, our writing increasingly forms the first impression we create. Whether it’s a new team member or manager, a potential new client or a partner across the globe, how we write matters. It reflects our professionalism and it provides a lasting record of the impression we create and the message we convey.
Here are four good reasons to improve your professional writing skills – and a few tips how.
Email communication gives us the opportunity to develop rapport with our customers and colleagues. We can empathise, showing that we understand their needs or concerns. We can build connection by finding common ground and showing interest in their lives. A quick email to follow up after a meeting or check in at the end of the week helps to make colleagues or partners feel valued.
Rapport is about closeness so don’t assume that a very formal style is best as formality often creates distance. You can be friendly and professional without being overly formal and stuffy. What does this mean?
Use direct but polite language
Take the lead from your reader and mirror their style
Find out about the communication preferences and expectations of their culture; this can inform how formal, to-the-point or chatty you should be
Persuasion was recently listed by LinkedIn as one the most important business skills for 2020. Excellent business writing is a key tool for persuading others to buy into your ideas or buy your product or service. The first step is to persuade your audience to open and to continue reading your communication by hooking them in and illustrating how you can help them. If your purpose for writing and for me reading is not clear from the outset you risk losing me. What can you do?
Ask questions and use dynamic, active language
Highlight the benefits of what you are offering or asking your reader to do
Don’t be afraid of starting or finishing with a clear and specific request or instruction
Have you ever received an email and not been sure what the sender wants from you? Or perhaps you’ve been in meetings and thought how much more efficient it would have been if contributors had circulated their ideas before (and, of course, that everyone had read them)? Clear and succinct writing improves efficiency. It means I don’t need to follow up your email reply to ask for clarification or to repeat questions that you haven’t answered. It means I can follow your thought processes easily and understand what you need from me. How does this work?
Put your key message at the start
Break down long sentences and paragraphs
Replace complex language or jargon with simpler terms to avoid alienating your reader
Grammatical accuracy may not the be-all and end-all, particularly if you are writing in your second or third language. However, sending a valued client or a manager written communication peppered with typos or incomplete sentences can damage your professional reputation. It may give your reader the impression that you couldn’t be bothered or didn’t have time for them. Careless mistakes, a mis-spelt name or bad punctuation that confuses the reader will lose you credibility. Don't forget to:
Take time to review, double check and read again before you send
Use an online tool to check for grammar and punctuation mistakes
When you think how much time you spend at your keyboard, it makes sense to consider refreshing your skills. Start by writing less, writing simply and checking everything before you send!