Be it a status update on Facebook or an expert report, most of us undertake some form of writing every day. You would think, therefore, that for most people, written communication would come naturally. For some individuals, however, conveying their thoughts effectively in writing can be challenging, potentially making all the difference between something like a job acceptance and a job rejection.
Messages can be misinterpreted, leaving room for misunderstandings—and even conflict. Even when the meaning seems crystal clear to you, obtuse language can cause ambiguity and create the wrong impression. Fortunately, there are several steps writers can take to improve their communication skills, enabling them to convey information in text clearly and concisely.
Why are communications skills so important?
The ability to communicate effectively with other people is an essential life skill. We communicate vocally, visually, non-verbally, and via written media constantly. Communication is therefore an essential soft skill that is vital for a successful career.
Strong communication skills are useful in all aspects of life, from the home to the office, and everywhere in between. In the workplace, effective communication skills ensure that you are understood by others, enabling you to relay information accurately and quickly. In contrast, poor communication skills can hold workers back, creating misunderstandings and frustration. According to a survey by LinkedIn, communication tops the list of desirable soft skills among employers.
What is the key to effective written communication?
When you’re writing, knowing how and where to start can be challenging. Nevertheless, the following steps can be effective in terms of eliminating ambiguity and communicating clearly in writing:
1. Create an outline.
Breaking down the task into manageable units of information helps to formulate longer documents such as speeches, presentations, or reports, enabling you to deliver information in a logical, engaging, and impactful way.
Just as an orator needs to connect with their audience, so does a writer. Write with your audience in mind, placing yourself in your audience’s shoes to ensure the content makes sense from their perspective. Empathy is important in written communication. Even in written communications, you must build rapport. First, consider the reader’s motivations. For example, when formulating a sales pitch, ask yourself what is the benefit for the reader. In other words, why does the reader need the product or offer?
3. Stay on point.
Pretending you have just 15 seconds to get your point across can be an effective way of identifying your main theme.
4. Keep it simple.
Flowery language, metaphors, and symbolism are all well and good in a literary sense, but in simple communications, particularly in the business world, it is important to use clear, easy-to-understand language.
5. Keep it brief
Most of us inwardly groan when confronted by a 500-word e-mail, particularly one that is poorly formatted with reams of text and little white space in between. Writing must be broken down into bitesize sections, making it easier to digest.
6. Do your research.
Nothing screams “amateur” louder than a poorly researched piece lacking in substance or littered with inaccuracies. In their rush to get to the finish line, many writers try to take shortcuts, which could range from plucking statistics from thin air to plagiarism. Not only does this make a writer appear amateurish, but, depending on the situation, it could potentially land them in trouble.
7. Edit ruthlessly.
In today’s instant age, most of us have gasped at the occasional typo from world-leading news agencies. A great writer is their own harshest critic, reviewing each line with the hawklike vision of an editor, picking up mistakes and stripping out extraneous words, rewriting and reworking to create a stronger finished piece. In many cases, it is worth asking a third party to cast their eye over your work. In some circumstances, particularly for inexperienced writers and important pieces, it may be worth enlisting professional help.
8. Know when to stop.
A good writer strives for perfection. However, some writers can get caught in a loop, reevaluating their work over and over. It is important to know both that no piece of writing can be perfect and when it is time to let go. This is especially important in business, where often you must adhere to deadlines.
Fortunately, there are many online solutions to help writers hone their communication skills. From Grammarly, to PaperRater, to the Hemingway App, there is a wealth of free and paid tools available to help authors improve their work, picking up errors from grammatical mistakes to inappropriate tone. Such online tools may not catch all mistakes, but they can serve as an effective safety net, catching silly mistakes and saving you from embarrassment.