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How to Improve Your Written Communication Skills at Work

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How to Improve Your Written Communication Skills at Work
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How to Improve Your Written Communication Skills at Work

Now, more than ever, the bulk of our personal and professional communication is happening through a screen rather than in person. Whether it is an email or instant message, it is important that we effectively communicate our messages.

Challenges of Written Communication

There was a day when you met regularly and in-person with your team. While in-person teams still exist, it is more common to have remote or at least partially remote teams that include people you may never even meet in person. This opens up a new world of possibility when it comes to talent and diversity but poses a unique challenge that goes against our human nature and our ability to interpret body language and micro reactions in our communications.

Albert Mehrabian, a body language researcher, found that communication is 55% nonverbal, 38% vocal, and 7% words. He later clarified that his research was based on the communication of single words associated with emotion and is not entirely conclusive to full sentence communication. Thankfully, this common misinterpretation of his finding has led to even more research on this topic that shows anywhere from 60% – 70% of communication is nonverbal. That is a far cry from 93%, but the point still stands that a significant chunk of communication is done non-verbally.

That begs the question… how much of our communication abilities are lost when we are communicating solely through text? The answer is a lot.

Fear not! It may be more challenging but there are ways to improve your written communication and clearly convey your message.

Three C’s of Communication

Three C’s of Communication

One may think that a big part of communication is grammar and spelling. While it certainly won’t do you any favours to send an email riddled with typos, it’s more complicated than that.

Be Concise

In an effort to be more concise, ensure that you’re not needlessly adding words to your message. Note the word count and challenge yourself to share the same message while reducing the number of words you need to convey it.

Consider your medium – If you are using a message board that follows a stream of related conversations, there is no need to provide context with each reply. On the other hand, if you’re communicating an update with a client or management, it makes sense to add a bit of context.

In being concise also consider correctness. While you want to be sure to only include the words that are needed, the words used should accurately convey the tone and message behind the communication.

Be Clear

Clear and concise may sound similar but there is an important difference. In an attempt to write clearly, you want to be considerate of the actual words you use. Resist the urge to sound “smart” by including less common descriptive words when a more common one exists. It also helps to keep sentences short.

If your communication involves an ask, make sure it is undeniably clear. For example:

“Please draft a 200 word summary of the project for Client 1. Send it to Jane for review by Wednesday at 2:00 pm.”

This message includes boundaries (word count), context (Client 1), action (send to Jane) and a deadline (Wednesday at 2:00 pm). A clear message was sent with less than 25 words.

Be Considerate

One of the best ways to be considerate of the reader is crafting the appropriate message based on the platform. For example, if you are communicating via instant message, keep it short and likely more informal.

Part of being considerate is another “C” word – courteous. A little courtesy goes a long way in written communication and can get lost in the quest to be clear and concise. Showing gratitude is never a waste of space and does wonders to communicate respect for the reader’s time and attention.

Tips to Improve Written Communication

10 Tips to Improve Written Communication

With the three C’s of communication fresh in your mind, consider the following tips to improve your written communication abilities.

Read It Out Loud

It may feel silly and I highly recommend that you are alone when you do this, but reading your message out loud will make a big difference. It is much easier to catch mistakes and get a feel for the tone when the message is spoken as opposed to silently reading.

Consider Your Audience

Are you writing a quick note to a friend or to the CEO? This will make a big difference in how you format your message and the tone that it may take. Save your emoji’s for less formal interactions with your team and spend a little extra time on communications with

Get In The Zone

One of the most common mistakes people get into is not really thinking before they write. Because a backspace is easier than whiteout, we are all guilty of just jumping in. You will see great improvement in your written communication when you learn to take a deep breath first and take a couple of minutes to get into the zone.

Make Use of Writing Assistant Tools

Grammarly is an excellent program that will add a layer of review on to your work. While it is not perfect, programs are getting better and better at noticing errors and even recognizing the sentiment behind a message.

Provide Context

If someone where to receive your email as a stand alone document, would they have any idea what is going on? No, you don’t need to include a full history of the project every time that you send an email but be clear enough that someone will not have to work backwards to remember what you are talking about. It can be as simple as including the title of the project or making use of the subject line.

Practice Makes Perfect

Okay, nothing is ever perfect but the sentiment is that you need to practice to be good at anything. Consider the amount of words that you write in a day. You can figure this out by copying and pasting everything you write into a word document and then using the word count function. Try this for a week and see how much you write and use that number to set a writing goal. The idea is to get a baseline and ensure that you practice every day.

Proofread

Proofread

This should go without saying but so often people type away and click that send button without even once reviewing their work. There is nothing worse than realizing you spelled someone’s name wrong when it was written correctly in their email address. If your document is longer, like a report, it’s extra important to factor in time to review it. A good tip is to have others read it first because they can spot things you have come to ignore having read it so many times. Another is to actually plan your time right that you can step away from the work for a couple of days and come back to it with fresh eyes.

Keep It Simple

There may be times when you need to step up your game but more often you will be writing less formally and for people you know. The goal is to get a message from point A to point B with as little resistance as possible. This respects your time but also the time of the receiver who also has things to do.

Back To The Basics

You didn’t think you were going to get through a blog about written communication without a reference to The Elements of Style, right? Originally published over 100 years ago in 1918 by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, the advice packed into these pages has really stood the test of time and is a must-have on your bookshelf.

Imitate Writing Styles

Can you think of anyone in your circle who already does a great job when it comes to written communication? Think of what it is about them that appeals to you and how you can apply that in your own written communication.

Conclusion

There are very few skills that span across industries but effective written communication is one of them. If you are looking to improve your skills, you can start by implementing any one of these tips and you will be well on your way.

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