Great writing isn't just for the profound thinker or creative author. Great writing has as much to do with competence in writing and being able to express what you want to say in the written word as it does in how you verbalize your thoughts. It doesn't require that you have an expansive vocabulary or that you have to be prolific in how many ways you can tell the same story. Oftentimes, it's just knowing how to make subject and verb agree, using appropriate grammar, and spelling correctly. People who may not know you well will assume your level of intelligence by how you write if that's all they have to go on. If you write like a fourth-grader, people will assume you're only as smart as a fourth grader. To be taken seriously, you must present yourself as one who is knowledgeable. Making simple mistakes like choosing the wrong version of a word (e.g. "your" instead of "you're" or "their" instead of "they're" or the often misused "lose" instead of "loose") can give the appearance of one who didn't pay attention in English class. Not to mention wrong word choices can also cause confusion if they change the meaning of the sentence.
If you're not a strong writer, there are at least three things you can do to improve your skills:
- Read more. The more you read, the more you get to see words in the right context. The more you hear the "voice" of a skilled writer, the more you develop your own voice. You can expand your vocabulary by reading content that will challenge what you think you already know. When I come across an unfamiliar word or one that I've seen but don't really know the meaning, I take the time to look it up. Then I try to find ways to incorporate that word into my daily conversations so I can get used to it. Make a dictionary and a thesaurus your best friends. Therefore, challenge yourself to write better by reading more.
- Write more and proofread your work. The two should always go hand-in-hand. Anytime you write, and I mean anytime, you should always proofread what you've written before you send it out. I proof everything from formal letters to emails and even my text messages to make sure they are accurate. It is so easy to write something these days and zip it off to someone without re-reading it. Electronic communications has made us lazy. It's fast, but it's far from accurate. So easily you can misspell a word due to auto-correct that may totally miss what you actually meant to convey. That's why it is imperative to take a quick look at what you wrote before you hit "send". I found at least ten errors in the first draft of this blog entry. I don't care how insignificant you feel the message is or how familiar you are with the person you're sending it to. It's all about accuracy. Don't make people work too hard to try to figure out what you are trying to say. I will often stop reading messages when there are too many misspelled words. Bottom line: the more you write the better you become. As with anything you want to improve in, you must practice, practice, practice.
- Take a class. Find a quick class that will allow you to brush up on your writing skills. In fact, my company offers a quick one-day session to adults who want to "Say It Better Through the Written Word". Get the personal feedback you need. Add value to your communications skills by being able to write well and present yourself as competent and professional. It's one of the best investments you can make in yourself.