“I’m just not a good writer. I’ve never had the skills.”
As business writing consultants, we know that many people think the only way to improve their writing is to go back to school and retake English. But that’s not the case at all. Instead of thinking of your writing skills as unchangeable, think of them as a software program in need of an upgrade.
Technology companies upgrade their operating systems all the time
Apple recently launched iOS 6 for the iPhone and iPad. Microsoft is set to move from Windows 7 to Windows 8 in the coming days. It’s not that iOS 5 or Windows 7 were dysfunctional; they just needed advancements to better suit changing technological and user demands.
Upgrading to Reader-Centered Writing
You already have the main operating system to write clearly, articulately, and effectively—you just need a mental “software” upgrade. Like software, writing is a process with a sequenced structure:
- There’s the code—the content you need to convey to your reader.
- Software engineers place chunks of this code in a sequence to optimally function. Think of your message’s sequence of ideas—what order will best communicate a clear message or action?
- Between each chunk of code, you need instructions to guide the reader (for example: headlines, bold text, and bulleted or numbered lists).
- Once your purpose, content, and sequence are in place, it is essential to check for bugs—grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. An error may confuse your reader and undermine the effectiveness of your message.
Simple steps you can take to improve your writing
Whether you’re new to the workplace or have written hundreds of business documents, here are some simple steps to improve your writing:
- Learn a step-by-step writing process for focusing, planning, drafting, and editing. The Six Steps to Reader-Centered Writing® has worked for thousands of learners—it will work for you, too!
- Find out where you are weak in grammar and punctuation by brushing up with an online class or cracking a reference book (the Instant Answer Guide to Business Writing: An A –Z Source for Today’s Business Writer is our favorite, of course).
- Internalize the attributes of Reader-Centered Writing.
Clear writing reflects clear thinking
Many recent press articles have highlighted the lack of good writing in the workplace. I’ll leave you with my favorite thought from “Taming Sentences” (Kitty Burns Florey, 6/18/12, New York Times):
Everyone from George Orwell (in his famous essay ‘Politics and the English Language’) to a couple of dozen blog commenters has pointed out that clarifying the way we use language makes us better thinkers. If we’re thinking logically ourselves, and if we understand the power of the words we’re using, we’re more wary of being bamboozled by muddy thinking. As Orwell put it, make sure your writing is simple and clear, so that “when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.”
Today's blog is by Brett Gilcreast, the newest member of the BC Team!