The average worker spends 28 percent of their working week on email. And in the time you spend on email each year you could climb Mount Everest - twice.
On top of this constant flow of emails, you also have presentations, advertising, marketing, briefings, proposals, social media posts, and memos which all involve writing.
So, despite the rise of technology, writing still plays a huge part in our working lives.
And, if we are going to spend so much time writing, shouldn’t we do it effectively?
Here are seven tips from our writing skills courses which will help you improve your communication in the workplace.
Keep it simple
Whatever the audience you are writing for, whether it is internal colleagues, customers or partners, the aim is unlikely to be to impress them with your use of vocabulary.
And the reality is no-one is going to pat you on the back because you know a few long words.
What could happen, apart from people potentially thinking you are pretentious, is your audience may lose interest in what you have written because they can’t follow what you are trying to say.
Alternatively, they might misunderstand the point you are trying to make or the message may become ambiguous.
Make it appealing
Long paragraphs consisting of multiple sentences are not appealing for readers. And they can cause them to lose interest.
Newspapers and magazines typically keep paragraphs to just one sentence because they know readers find longer paragraphs daunting and this is a good example to follow in business writing.
Additionally, sentences need to be tight and shouldn’t really exceed 30 words. Long sentences with multiple clauses invite unnecessary complexity.
Your audience is unlikely to have the luxury of time, so get to the point quickly - even if it goes against the way we were taught to write essays at school.
On our writing skills courses, we tell our delegates that if you are asking your readers to go through paragraphs of text before they get to the crucial point then there is a good chance they may not get there.
Start strongly and then go on to support your message with facts and examples. These are more memorable – take, for example, stat at the start about Mount Everest.
On our writing skills training courses we stress to delegates the importance of aiming for a conversational style.
We should be striving to use the language we would use if we were talking to a friend in a pub or café (except for formal reports).
To achieve this, you may need to break some of the grammar rules you were taught at school, such as not beginning sentences with ‘and’.
And, the words ‘you’ and ‘I’ are particularly powerful here and can make writing appear personal to the reader.
Cut the fat
Cut unnecessary words from your writing.
An obvious one to remove is ‘very’.
The American novelist Florence King once said: “‘Very’ is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out. More than useless, it is treacherous because it invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen.”
‘That’ is another one which can easily be deleted without changing the meaning of your sentence.
Other words you can cut include ‘definitely’, ‘probably’, ‘basically’ and ‘certainly’, all of which do not add anything to a sentence.
And ‘some’ and all its relatives like ‘sometimes’ and ‘somewhere’ only add vagueness to a sentence.
Avoid the jargon
A regular frustration with much written content is that organisations often fall back on jargon to explain what they do and the messages they are trying to get across.
The problem is that often these words and phrases mean little to people outside your industry or company – instantly turning off readers.
There’s a memorable example from Carpetright which once said bed sales had been “impacted in the period by an acceleration of rearranging activity to improve the proposition.”
And then there was this from Paddy Power on a proposed merger: “The merger of Paddy Power and Betfair will create a company of world-class capability and people who deliver substantial up-front synergies and a platform for very exciting business expansion.”
This is a writing structure used by journalists which others should consider adopting.
Essentially the most newsworthy part goes at the beginning – for business writing this should be the main message you want to get across. And perhaps even the call to action.
The next stage of the pyramid is for the important details, supporting information, statistics, quotes and examples.
And at the base of the pyramid we have the general and background information together with a reminder of the call to action.
Structuring writing in this way ensures it is easy for readers to follow.
Inverted pyramid writing — start with the most important, fill in more at each next cut. pic.twitter.com/3ogHQaEmpF— Sketchplanations (@sketchplanator) November 26, 2017
Need help with your writing skills? We are communications training specialists with a team of experienced trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists. They are ideally placed to help you improve your writing and produce attention-grabbing content whatever the format.