I recently read an article by Dave Kerpen called, “Want to Be Taken Seriously? Become a Better Writer”. I don’t know what exactly the main culprit is, but over the last few years I have noticed that the quality of writing seems to have taken a severe nosedive. Even professional news organizations like CNN have posted articles that make me cringe – misspellings, grammatical errors, confusing language – I often can’t believe the article made it to the company’s website without passing an editor’s desk.
I know not everyone is required (or expected) to write as part of their basic job duties. But for many of us, writing (emails, reports, project updates, etc.) at work is more common than we may realize. And while some people may not be sticklers for grammar or punctuation, it doesn’t hurt to consider some basic tips if you want to be taken seriously as a professional. Here were the key points I liked best from Mr. Kerpen’s article:
1. “If you want to be taken seriously by your manager… you must become a better writer.” You may disagree that your manager will respect your opinion more if you are a better writer, but what’s the risk in making an effort to improve your writing if there’s even the slightest chance you’ll benefit from it professionally?
2. “Practice, practice, practice.” Not only is it important to practice writing, as Mr. Kerpen suggests, I also think it’s important to practice proofreading. Taking a few extra minutes with each piece of writing to check your work will go a long way to avoiding mistakes that could confuse or turn off your audience. Nowadays all you need is spellcheck or a quick Google search to verify you’re spelling “definitely” correctly or that you’re using the proper form of the word “there’ (or “their” or “they’re”).
3. “Say it out loud.” You’d be surprised how much reading something out loud can help you catch mistakes you otherwise wouldn’t notice. But a word of caution: phonetics (the sound of language) can often be deceiving. I recently saw a comment on Facebook that read, “I fill bad for you”. This may sound right to someone who pronounces “feel” and “fill” the same way, but they are two very different words, with two very different meanings.
4. “Make it more concise.” I have a tendency to be too ‘wordy’, trying to ensure the message is fully understood, and often risk losing my audience with the excessive language. As Mr. Kerpen suggests, I’m always asking myself, “How can I say the same thing in fewer words?”
5. “Read.” Even if you can only allocate 10 minutes each day to reading a blog or newspaper article, your Twitter feed, or emails, any chance you get to read will help improve your writing skills. Try setting a goal this year to read more books than you did last year. Read with your kids. Instead of watching that extra 30 minutes of TV after dinner, stick your nose in a book or magazine instead.
Finally, it never hurts to have a second (or third) pair of eyes look at your work before sharing with your intended audience. If the content contains confidential information this may not be possible, but for anything else, having someone check your work is a quick and easy backup to your own editing. Regardless of your rank or position, there’s always room for improvement.
If you’d like to read more articles by Dave Kerpen on LinkedIn, you can access his profile here.