What if all your communication was through written messages? How efficiently and clearly would you be able to communicate your thoughts? For those of us with poor or average writing skills, workplace writing tasks can be challenging and intimidating. But you can improve your writing skills by following these habits. Here are six ways to improve your writing skills fast.
1. Start a collection of professional writing samples
Like a squirrel preparing for winter, start collecting examples of great writing. Start with a Google search of email or business writing samples or templates. Bookmark those websites or begin saving your own files.
Refer to these templates of great writing when you work on your next writing task. You may even want to paste the template into your document or your email and replace the concepts with your own words as you write.
Another tip is to save emails that you receive if you admire the writing for its structure, vocabulary, or style. When you have a chance, as a practice exercise, copy the words from the email until you become familiar with how it is written.
2. Keep a List of Common Grammar Mistakes
Grammar is a tough subject. It’s also considered a dry and boring subject for most people. However, like the vitamins you should eat, it’s necessary to know your grammar. So how can you improve this writing skill without torturing yourself with lengthy grammar lessons?
Take a look at this list of common grammar mistakes that many people make. Do you know the difference between their, there, and they’re? Do you know when to use “then” and when to use “than”? If the answer is no to any of these examples, then start a list of grammar mistakes for yourself to review.
If words seems like a dull endeavor, there are many online quizzes you can take to test your grammar skills, such as this one which tests pairs such as “it’s” and “its.” You’ll get feedback fast, and it’s like having a study partner.
Also, turn on the grammar check function on your email and documents. Doing this will help to reduce grammar errors such as “He could of won the game” versus “He could have won the game.”
3. Make a List of Frequent Spelling Errors
Bad spelling doesn’t necessary indicate low intelligence or poor writing skills. Accomplished writers Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were bad at spelling. However, even if writing isn’t one of your favourite activities, taking the extra time to checking your spelling can make you look smarter. You will definitely look more professional.
To improve this writing skill fast, turn on spell check functions in your email and documents. This will help to reduce silly typos such as “tommorrow” instead of “tomorrow.”
Look for lists of commonly misspelled words such as this list. Take a few minutes each day to quiz yourself on your ability to spell these words. Or keep your own list of words that you often catch yourself asking, “How do you spell that again?”
If you like immediate feedback, try out online quizzes such as this one which tests your ability to spell frequently misspelled words in the business niche. Add the words you spelled incorrectly to your list of words to watch for when you are writing.
4. Double Check Your Facts
Those who have an unusual name can relate to this: your name frequently gets misspelled. It happens often enough that you accept it as a common occurrence. But let’s not be the next person to misspell someone’s name. It’s a bad start for your email or letter.
To look as professional and polished as possible, don’t be that person who misspells the names of people, companies, or common cities. Take the extra second to ensure you’ve got the details correct.
Take an extra second to check your calendar to make sure that Monday really is the 12th and not the 13th. Don’t be that person who confuses the other party by saying you’ll meet them on Monday the 12th when Monday falls on the 13th of the month.
My little trick is to have a routine for my emails. When I type someone’s name, I check what I typed against the original email. When I refer to companies, dates, and file names, I double check I’ve spelled them correctly. You’d be surprised how often you think a word or name is what you think it is… but turns out it’s a slight variation.
Most importantly, make sure you follow up on what you say you’re going to do. Attach the file that you referred to. Follow up and do the research that you promised you would. These tiny details improve your workplace writing skills and make you look more polished.
5. Use Simple Vocabulary and Write Shorter Sentences
You might be wondering if writing longer sentences and using bigger words will make you appear smarter. It’s true. In the academic world, it’s common to write in longer sentences with more complex vocabulary. But at the workplace, plain language is just as effective at getting the point across.
To improve your writing skills, use plain language. Start with choosing the simpler word when you have two words with similar meaning. For example, say “use” instead of “utilize.” A list of simpler words and phrases are found here.
State your main point before going into details. Your thoughts should be clear and easy for the reader to follow. One way to do that is to use the active voice. Stick to one topic (or idea) per paragraph.
Your sentences should be only between 15 to 20 words in length. If your sentence is longer than that, consider splitting the sentence into two.
Plain language, or clear language, is ideal for the workplace because the writer states the point clearly and directly.
6. Establish a Writing and Editing Process
Lastly, have a routine for your workplace writing tasks. Some recommend starting your day with the most difficult tasks to make sure they get done. If you dislike writing, procrastination could make a writing task even more discouraging.
In this case, work on these tasks first and reward yourself with doing tasks you enjoy (or just the easy tasks) after.
For each task, establish a routine. I start by checking what needs to be covered in the task. For example, do I need to answer specific questions in an email? Do I need to attach a file? Do I need to do research and present the data in a table?
After finishing the writing task, I check grammar and spelling, and double check my facts. Then I set the task aside. If I’m working on a critical document, I’ll leave it until the next day to check it over.
When I return to the writing task, I read it aloud. Hearing my own words helps me to catch awkwardly written sentences or repeated words. For example, I might notice I keep using the same word over and over so I will substitute it with a synonym for some variety.
Having a routine ensures you won’t miss important steps, such as a final edit of what you’ve written.
If writing is not your favourite subject, don’t worry. You can improve your workplace writing skills fast by following some quick tips and creating some solid writing habits.
Keeping a list of spelling and grammar mistakes you often make, for example, will help you to minimize small but careless errors. Start collecting examples of writing that you can copy or inspire you with your writing tasks. Check the accuracy of your details, and most importantly, have a writing routine that includes editing.
If you follow these tips, you’ll look far more professional and competent.
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