How do you know your writing is up to scratch?

17 November 2017

I suspect many workplace communications, from emails to reports, never get read. One reason for this could be information overload or lack of time on the part of the reader. Another reason is that poorly written communications are simply too much hard work to read.

Apart from some specific grammar rules, there is no clear-cut right or wrong about written communication. To you, your communication may make perfect sense. Yet your reader may misinterpret your meaning.

So how do you know if your writing is up to scratch? Automated readability tests can give you some insight, but this is only part of the picture. To find out whether your writing makes the grade, watch out for these warning signs.

1.    Your readers rarely respond to your emails. While some people are notoriously poor responders, it’s possible that the recipient didn’t understand your email so doesn’t know how to respond.

Getting your reader to actually open your email is your first challenge. Does your email have a compelling and informative subject line? Once opened, is your communication inviting to read with short paragraphs and plenty of headings? Large slabs of unbroken text can deter even the most motivated reader. A few small tweaks to your wording and formatting could make all the difference.

2.    Your readers frequently respond incorrectly or fail to respond to your request. It’s possible that your reader didn’t read your email carefully. The other possibility is that your request was unclear. Check your communication before you send it, putting yourself in the shoes of your reader. Is there any possibility the reader could misunderstand your communication, particularly if they read it quickly? Does your request stand out from the rest of the email, or is it buried in the middle of a paragraph? Are your instructions step-by-step and easy to follow?

3.    Your supervisor spends a lot of time editing your work. A common misconception among many team members is that their written communication is ready to pass up the line as soon as they have finished writing. Under time pressure it’s tempting to just send off your report as soon as possible.

Be careful not to confuse a first draft with the final product. This is particularly important for reports, proposals and more complex communications. Before you let your supervisor or a client read your communication, put it aside for a few hours, or overnight if possible, then go back and revise it. Supervisors go particularly crazy if they have to correct basic typos. At the very least, do a spell check and read over your work. This is not being pedantic, it’s being professional.

If you want to be noticed (in a good way) and be considered for promotion, you’ll need sound written communication skills. Good writing is essential for productivity and efficiency. A reputation you don’t want when climbing the corporate or government ladder is as the person who writes incomprehensible reports or emails full of sloppy errors. Keep working on your writing skills and the rewards will come.  

Would you like to improve your business writing skills? Contact Concise Writing Consultancy on 02 9238 6638.

For more writing assessment techniques, download our free e-book Australia’s written communication crisis: 5 warning signs managers can’t afford to ignore.

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