You know the saying about not being able to teach old dogs new tricks? Even so, companies might want to focus their attention on teaching the ones they employ an old one instead: writing. In fact, a 2018 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 82 per cent of employers wanted candidates with strong written communication skills. Written communication was the most-desired quality overall, followed by problem solving skills and the ability to work as part of a team.
Knowing this, what can you do to improve your writing skills? Or boost the skills of those on your team? Here are a few tips.
The first step to writing well is tuning in. Turn everything except your brain and the computer off. While you might think you’re an ace multi-tasker, the science behind it suggests you’re not. In a landmark 2009 study, Stanford professor and researcher Clifford Nass showed that multi-taskers underperformed at all tasks. In other words, if you don't focus on what you're writing, you'll be far less efficient and may ultimately produce work that's of lower quality. So turn off Facebook, email and Twitter and just write.
Writing’s a bit like driving a car – to get to your destination, you have to know how you’re going to get there. That means planning the route before you step on the gas. So, before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), plan out what it is you want to say. Likewise, when you’re in the act of writing, be aware of what you’re doing. Skilled writers write with awareness, so learn to tune in to what you are doing, rather than slipping into a thoughtless stream of consciousness.
George Orwell said it almost 70 years ago: If it’s possible to cut a word, cut it. After all, in this digital age where many people are reading content on a hand-held device, getting and keeping people's attention is more important than ever. The good news is that you’re already getting plenty of practice, whether you realize it or not. That’s because the most popular forms of communication – texting, Twitter and other forms of social media – already encourage (or in some cases, enforce) brevity. Think about how succinct you can get in a text and translate that no-nonsense, to-the-point style to your other writing (with better grammar and punctuation, of course!)
This is probably the hardest part, but it’s also the most important. To get better at writing, you have to be willing to subject yourself to scrutiny and criticism. There's some vulnerability to writing because it always includes your own voice. However, a willingness to seek out feedback is something that applies to all writers, no matter how skilled they might be. Self-improvement is an ongoing process, which means that if you write, you have to be open to the criticism that will help you write better. So, seek out comments and criticisms about your work, and be open to providing it to others.
Is written communication a key skill in your workplace? if you aren't working toward honing it in yourself and among your employees, you may be missing out on a big opportunity.