There’s a myth that writing is for, well, writers — the kids who studied English lit and always had a novel tucked into their back pockets.
As higher education places an increasing premium on ROI and employability instead of mastering a fundamental human skillset, we’re overlooking an absolutely crucial and completely universal truth:
The power of effective communication.
As the founder of JotForm, a company with over 130 employees and more than 4.5 millions users, I do my best to encourage each and every team member to become a good writer — and I know how that can transform a business.
Other employers are also coming around to the idea that writing skills can have a big impact on the bottom line; according to one survey, 80 percent of employers want colleges and universities to focus more on improving written and oral communication.
Everyone on your team should be a “good” writer — both for the health of the organization and to enhance their own personal path to making and maintaining connections.
What does solid writing demonstrate beyond the obvious?
Think about the last time you received an email that was full of typos, grammatical errors and unclear or broken sentences. What did that message convey about the sender or about his or her business?
Even with the best intentions, bad writing expresses a lack of seriousness, competence and refinement — even if we only pick up on it on a subconscious level.
Good writing isn’t really about using impressive vocabulary or florid sentences. Being a good writer tells your audience that you’re capable of paying attention to details, that you care about your work, that you’re passionate about what you’re communicating and that you want to help others contribute by being clear about your expectations.
In other words, good writing strengthens the foundation that everything else is built on.
The benefits of everyone on the team being a good writer
“It doesn’t matter if the person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer, or whatever, their writing skills will pay off. That’s because being a good writer is about more than writing clear writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand” — Jason Fried
If you think of your team as an ecosystem — with each player making a key individual contribution to a bigger whole picture — then just consider how important it is for each of those players to be able to effectively communicate with each other.
And it doesn’t end there. Being a good writer can help with every aspect of your business that relies on communication — which is, well, every aspect:
- Increased sales. Sales teams often rely on cold written outreach, trying to drum up new business with desirable clients. Good writers are in a much better position to convey the advantages of working with your organization, respond clearly to requests and provide those artful little extra nudges and nuances that can tip someone in your favor.
- Happier customers. Once you win someone’s business, it’s essential to keep him or her content with the services you provide — and a big part of that comes down to communication and expressing to individuals that they have been heard and their requests or concerns are being addressed.
- Increased productivity. Good writing can facilitate better collaboration among team members by helping to set clear expectations and pass along any feedback in a transparent manner. When your team improves their writing, you can cut down on the misunderstandings that can cost both time and money.
- Enhanced engagement. If team members and clients roll their eyes every time someone’s email or proposal appears in their inbox, they’re never going to engage with the actual point you’re trying to make. By ensuring your entire team has enhanced writing capabilities, you’ll increase the receptiveness of others to your messaging.
My personal writing practice
As I’ve noted before, I’m a big fan of doing “morning pages,” a practice that uses writing to jumpstart the day.
While I’m still waking up, and before I get caught up in the day’s to-do list, I sit and type whatever comes to mind. This ritual has helped to boost my creativity, focus my thoughts and channel energy in completely unexpected ways.
And once I’m finished typing, I can go through what I’ve written to pull out any helpful points or ideas that deserve further exploration.
Even better, my morning pages practice has helped me to improve my writing skills. You don’t need to spend 10,000 hours on something to become an expert, but you do need deliberate practice in order to get better at it.
I prefer the five-hour rule, advocated by entrepreneur Michael Simmons:
One hour a day, five days a week. That kind of time commitment is enough to push you out of your comfort zone and ensure that you’re stretching your skills enough to actively improve them, but it’s also a manageable amount to add to a daily schedule.
You might think that you already work on your writing all of the time just by virtue of living and working in the world. The key thing is to make this practice deliberate, thoughtful and regular. In return, you’ll see big changes and soon.
And don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not always impressed by the results. In the words of novelist Jennifer Egan, “You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly… Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.”
Tips for improving writing skills
Take your time — even with emails.
As you watch your inbox pile up, it might seem like the best approach is to just fire off responses as quickly as possible. But, like everything else, good writing takes time and effort. So be sure to spend some time thinking through your message before you send it. Consider whether it really captures what you want to communicate, and think about how your message will be received. And be sure to include a formal greeting and signoff, plus proofread for any typos, grammatical errors or incomplete sentences.
Get to the point.
One of the biggest misconceptions about good writing is that it has to be fancy, utilizing big words and insider jargon. But that’s a mistake. Good writing is clear and concise, and the best way to accomplish that is by keeping things short and sweet.
Don’t shy away from storytelling.
While good writing demands that you get to the point without too much clutter, don’t be afraid to utilize some of the best elements of storytelling. When trying to explain a crucial point to colleagues, try using clear examples. When selling a product or service to new clients, consider how certain business narratives — the company’s founding story, for example — can play to your advantage and help establish credibility.
Find some writing heroes and actively read their work.
One of the best ways to become a good writer is by becoming a good reader. Look for role models across various segments of communication, whether that’s novelists, technical writers or newspaper columnists. Actively read their work and ask yourself how they’re structuring things, how they’re speaking to you as a reader, in a way that maximizes their impact and even, potentially, spurs you to action.
Seek out a mentor or writing coach.
In addition to reading, go one step further and engage the services of a professional — ideally someone who can help you hone in on areas in which your writing needs improvement and can develop a plan for practice and improvement.