BY G. A. FINCH
We know that it is important that an executive have good speaking skills whether it is one-on-one conversation, small group discussions or large meetings. An executive must know how to make small talk as well as know how to give presentations.
What about writing? Is your writing up to snuff? Whether it is a note, memo, letter or lengthy report, and, especially a resume, your writing cannot be filled with misspellings, poor punctuation, bad grammar, or inappropriate use of vocabulary. It leaves a poor impression and people will judge you, even if they themselves do not know the difference between “its” and “it’s.”
An executive need not be a Pulitzer Prize winner, but she must write effectively and in an educated manner notwithstanding the declining writing standards in texts, tweets, emails, and posts. Her using the vernacular and improper grammar simply will not do.
Unfortunately, thorough training in writing can be missing in one’s high school, college, and graduate school training. The level of writing skills is very uneven. For many educated people, they must teach themselves punctuation and grammar. As there are plenty of good books and articles available on grammar, punctuation and vocabulary, this article will focus only on providing some practical guides to have in mind when writing for business.
There are many elements of effective business and professional writing. Here are a few to start:
- Generally, shorter sentences are better than longer sentences; sometimes a complex thought requires a complex sentence.
- Shorter paragraphs are better than longer ones.
- The fewer pages you can make a document without omitting critical information, the better.
- An active voice is more powerful than a passive voice; sometimes a passive voice just sounds better.
- Simpler words are better than complicated words, e.g. “walk” is better than “ambulate.”
- The fewer adjectives in your writing, the better, as the facts should be compelling enough for both writer and reader to form conclusions and recommendations.
- You should make sure you know how to use a word, e.g., when something is funny, it is “hilarious” and not “hysterical.”
- For long documents, your using headings and sub-headings will help guide the reader and break up dense writing.
- It is best to state your proposition or request at the beginning and then follow with arguments and evidence to support your proposition or request.
- If you have compelling data, use charts and graphs to illustrate your points as many people are visual learners.
- Triple check your numerical calculations and data; faulty numbers and simple numerical mistakes will destroy the credibility of your piece; a lack of attention to detail could be seen as a red flag of your possible sloppy habits and thinking.
- You should double-check to spell correctly a person’s or organization’s name or place-name as people are sensitive about their names, affiliations, hometowns, or countries; and, again, inattention to detail lowers the reader’s confidence in the writer.
- Never totally rely on word processing spell check as it cannot tell the difference between correctly spelled but wrong words like “to” and “too” or “be” and “bee” or “of” and “or.”
- Whether it is a four-sentence letter or a 30-page document, read it with a ruler at least three times and have someone else proof read it too; if you have the time, set the document aside a few days before doing a final proof read.
- Unless you are a novelist, poet, screenwriter, or playwright writing in those respective genres, do not use profanity, crude words, or off-color references in your business or professional writing.
- In formal writing, it is better to write out words fully and not use contractions like “can’t” and “don’t,” because it adds a certain solemnity to the communication and shows respect for your audience.
As an executive or professional you are presumed to be educated, and your bosses, colleagues, clients, customers, and patients expect that you know how to write well. You do not want to disappoint them.
Oh, and by the way – the only way to improve your writing is by writing. Like anything else, practice makes perfect.