Chances are, the answer is HECK YES.
In fact some experts say that bad writing costs businesses nearly $400 billion each year.
Why? Let’s do a quick run-through of the skills you need to run a successful business – project management, financial know-how, sales, marketing… You know, stuff folks get degrees in.
But writing? That’s something everybody can do, right? It’s one of those ‘soft’ skills people talk about. I mean… English majors? What a joke!
Erm, except that this joke’s on you :-).
Because good writing is faaaaaaaar from easy. But it’s also the one skill that every single employee needs to do well – not only to do his or her job well, but so that others can do theirs well, too.
It’s all about communication. And these days, communication mostly happens in the form of good ole writing (texting included).
Which means that whether you’re communicating internally to colleagues or externally to customers, being understood and getting people to do what you want them to do, is critical.
Then why are so many people so bad at writing?
The good news: you’re NOT alone. Companies spend more than $3.1 billion each year on remedial writing training for employees. Obviously, that’s also the very bad news.
Because that’s just the basics. Forget the crafty, purpose-driven, high-quality writing required for marketing and sales teams to be even remotely effective.
Whether it’s basic writing or advanced, overwhelmingly, folks just plain HATE doing it.
Partly because we’re all a wee bit lazy. Writing takes time. It takes work. You have to practice at it.
But also, writing is hard. English language grammar rules are exceedingly unclear, with so many exceptions that one wonders why there are any rules at all. And as technology has morphed the way we communicate and the way we write, the rules have evolved in practice but in a way that no one actually teaches.
Then there are emojis. Love them, admittedly. But let’s be frank… Thanks to emojis, the majority of our communications have been reduced to a one tap, pictorial “grunt,” which often boils down to:
- patronizing dismissal (thumbs-up = no thoughtful response required),
- disingenuous expression of affection (c’mon, who doesn’t “heart” everything?) or
- over exaggerated reaction (really, are you really crying with laughter?).
3 Ways to Improve Your Writing Right Now
1. Do Unto Others
For gosh sakes, have a little compassion. Remember that the person on the other end of that email or Slack thread is busy, like you. They don’t want to spend a long time reading and trying to figure out what you’re really saying.
Take, for example, meeting scheduling convos with team members in other time zones… Do them a favor:
WRITE THE TIME IN BOTH THEIR ZONE AND YOURS.
Save them the confusion of calculating (c’mon, we’re all crap at math, too). Even better, preempt their response and prevent additional back-and-forth. Chances are, they’ll accept. Like so:
Hey Jim! Would 12 PM Eastern/9 AM Pacific work for you? I’m sending along a calendar invite now. If that doesn’t work, let me know what does and thanks!
2. Don’t Bury the Lede
In school, we a were all taught to warm folks up with a long preamble, setting the stage for what would come next.
Because the more time peeps have to spend reading, the less time they’re spending doing work.
Get to the point faster by merciless editing. Start by writing as you normally would. Then, go back, read everything you just wrote and identify the extraneous. Hack the fluff. Get ruthless! You can do it.
#ProTip: Look for passive voice and rejigger to active, i.e., “The bone of the dog” becomes “the dog’s bone.”
3. Write with Your Eyeballs
The same way we eat with our eyes, we read with our eyes; it’s a visual experience. Which means how what you write looks, matters.
Think spacing. Think, bold, italics, all caps. Think numbers, exclamation marks, question marks, percent signs, semicolons, colons, en and em dashes, parenthesis, ellipses – and yes, even emojis. Anything that stands out from the norm, that breaks up the text… that shizzle is your friend!
Make smart use of this tool kit. Because how you arrange your words can make what you’re trying to communicate more, erm, digestible.
For example, see all of the above :-).
Most importantly, loose the jargon. Acronyms, cliches, biz blab… BLEH. That stuff is a communication killer. Your readers will thank you.