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Refresh Your Written Communication Skills

A person's hands on a laptop keyboard typing with a phone on the desk beside the laptop.

Business writing doesn't have to be about 'the boring bits'

For me – and my clients – it is missing a trick to think that effective business writing is primarily about what school children often term as the ‘boring bits’ - punctuation and grammar and so on.

Don’t get me wrong, these do matter. They work as aids to help logic and understanding. And whatever our personal thoughts, readers (whether stakeholders or customers) do look for ‘correct writing’ as an indicator of professionalism and credibility.

But what ultimately gets people to 'buy in' to our business communication? That’s something far more exciting to explore...

It’s when a reader can sense our passion and our verve as intrinsic elements embedded in our knowledge and professionalism. It’s when we communicate clearly and personably. It’s when we design communication that aligns our needs to theirs.

In short, it’s when we show that we understand them as people.

How do we do that? I suggest it’s by the way we actively express ourselves via our Word Power Skills.

#WordPowerSkills is a great game-changer

Quite some years back, I analyzed feedback from the varied workshops I ran for organizations of all sizes and types.

From shipping companies to finance, law, retail, public sector and so on, it became clear - what if we could look at the way we write, not just from our perspective as the writer, but from our organization’s and readers’ perspectives too?

What if we could use a system that would work across all writing tasks, across traditional and emerging channels, across borders and generations?

In a lightbulb moment, I devised the four-step Word Power Skills writing system. It’s about:

  1. Being correct for the purpose (so important from the outset! And this needs to be identified for each writing task), and mistake-free.

  2. Being clear and being understood (a necessary metric!).

  3. Making an impact (can be the fun bit).

  4. Being reader/customer-focused (the rewarding bit, as this leads to the results you need). 

Yes, punctuation and grammar slip partly into the first two steps (for many, they are the relatively ‘boring bits’ I referred to earlier). But I’m far more excited about the other aspects involved – and I bet you find that you and your readers are too, given the chance.

After all, who doesn't need words in today's digitally-driven workplace?

Email and digital writing

You probably find that you spend the majority of your business time writing emails and instant messaging, right?

These are not what we term as ‘traditional writing’ tasks (reports, meetings notes, proposals or other formal documentation). But email, instant messaging and social media posts are the major drivers of business writing today.

Unfortunately, they are also a major cause of workplace stress.

So, I want to help people get beyond the feeling of being swamped and fatigued by information overload.

If you had the time to analyze the content instead of being overwhelmed by it, you would see pretty quickly that a vast amount of digital messages are only partly effective. Sad to say, a vast amount will be totally ineffective.

Why is that?

There are always reasons, and my career as a communication trouble-shooter has given me the opportunity to analyze why:

  • Senders are using unclear language that is easily misunderstood.

  • Senders are not getting to the point and being succinct.

  • Senders get to the point too quickly, without context or the right tone.

  • Senders copy too many people in, which can lead to inaction (who does what?), unease or even irritation (why am I being copied in?).

  • Senders are only part replying to points previously raised.

  • Senders are not sending messages at the right time.

I could go on (that's why I've written a book on the subject), but you should get the picture. Ineffective digital writing is a huge cause of workplace stress.

And frankly, a lot of you will agree that there’s not enough attention being paid to this problem. It’s not just up to you to brush up on your own skills: it’s for your colleagues and wider teams to share the responsibility.

Assess your narrative in every workplace writing task

Naturally, there will be times when you must use standard templates in your workplace communication. But that should not mean you switch to autopilot whenever you write.

What if you could paint a picture with your words? What if there was no such thing as a boring message?

As an example, engineers have managed to make an impact on me and get me enthused about underwater cables and gas supplies, through their passion in writing about it in some communications I recently read.

How? They express their passion through clarity, as simply as possible. As Albert Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

It’s a fact that we all write more effectively at work by ditching passive, historic writing. What was right for yesterday may not work today, let alone tomorrow.

And don’t get me started on formulaic constructions such as: ‘We await your instructions at your earliest convenience.’

I can’t believe that I am still seeing this sort of language. Are there examples that you can think of in your workplace?

Creating your narrative with Word Power Skills

You see, if you just shift your mindset and lift your texts with verve and clear signposting, you’ll find you’re more inspired.

And what happens? Your readers want to read.

It’s a great way to turbo-charge your results. After all, that’s why you write anything and everything, isn’t it?

Discover more tips and examples by following my hashtag #WordPowerSkills.