Writing skills are often taken for granted once you reach a certain level in your career, and the higher up you get the more people will expect a certain standard. If writing doesn’t come easily for you, there’s no need to be intimidated. In business, facility with words and a large vocabulary is less important than that you are understood clearly and achieve the results that you intended.
Develop Your Executive Writing Skills
You can develop skills in writing to craft reliably useful communications with your staff and higher-ups, by applying the same interpersonal skills and analytical mind that earned you the position in the first place. Consider every opportunity to write as a chance to hone your skills at communicating clearly within your sphere at work. When you follow a few guidelines and keep your focus on clarity, writing can become a powerful tool in your arsenal of executive skills.
Know Your Purpose
Choose the right delivery method for your message. Reading asks for a commitment of time from the reader, so you want to make sure that it is necessary before you start to compose that email or memo.
Written communication is suitable for company business that you want on record and to reach a large group of people with the same information. It is also useful when you need a timely response or action. Sometimes, though, a conversation or meeting is more productive and less time-consuming than crafting a written message.
Set the Tone
Words have impact and are most effective for business purposes when they are limited to the essential information. A written message can be quoted, resent, and even turn up elsewhere in company communication, so think carefully before you commit to the written word.
Determine who will be reading the message and target the tone accordingly. For company messages sent by email, a warm, inclusive tone is appropriate, personalizing the content by addressing the readers as “you”. For more formal reports or summary documents, keep the tone authoritative and factual, bearing in mind that it may be widely shared through the c-suite.
Negative messages are amplified in writing, so keep the tone positive and save bad news or critical comments for face-to-face conversations. If it is necessary to convey a negative message in writing, take a moment to set it up within a positive context and maintain the positive attitude at the end. If you are uncertain about tone, read the message out loud to yourself. That will help you understand how it will be received. You can adjust it as necessary for tone and clarity before you send it. If you have a trusted colleague or partner, ask them to read it out loud to you and see how another perceives your tone unprompted.
Keep it Simple
Business correspondence, whether it is an email, executive summary, or report, is intended to communicate a message. Your colleagues and employees have limited time to absorb all the messages they receive daily, making it imperative that what you write is easily and quickly understood. Write in plain language, limiting jargon and acronyms that aren’t generally known. If you need to use an acronym, and you’re not sure if people will recognize it, spell it out in parenthesis the first time you use it. Using the same vocabulary that you apply in conversation conveys authenticity.
If you are communicating by email, put the essential message into the subject line. That can include the topic, the steps that you need the reader to take, and the deadline. Include links to more information, rather than summarizing it in one document. Charts and graphs can be made available as attachments or links.
One Thing at a Time
Don’t use each document as an opportunity for updates about a variety of current company business. That risks flooding the recipients with information and can result in a confused response. Stick to one issue at a time, focusing on communicating the action that you are requesting in order to move forward. In an email it may make sense to use bullets to address multiple issues, but more formal company documents should be as focused as possible.
Organize the Information
Define the parts of the issue that you are writing about and group them into sections, under descriptive headings. Summarize the key points at the beginning and then elaborate under the headings. Most information can generally be divided into “Background”, “Purpose of Project”, and “Next Steps”, though you may need to customize the headlines to fit the topic. Break up paragraphs with bullet points to make it easier for the reader to skim the document and quickly pull the information they need to know from the content.
Be a Strict Editor
Good writers are ruthless editors of their own work, reducing the message to the essential information that needs to be relayed. Be stern with yourself about removing unnecessary detail and adjectives. Remember that the person on the other end will be asking, “Why do I need to know this?” and make sure the answer to that question is front and center in the document or email.
Be a Strict Proofreader
Be diligent about checking spelling before you send the document. Improperly spelled words and names leave a poor impression and are off-putting for the reader. Check every link to make sure it leads to the right site. If you aren’t confident in your spelling or grammar, you might want to employ a tool like Grammarly to help.
Good Writers are Readers
Improve your writing skills by studying how other writers convey information clearly and concisely. Media reporting on current events is a good place to start. Like executives, reporters need to synthesize complex issues and events in a constrained format for a busy readership. Take note of the economical use of language and how the information is organized.
Another valuable source of clear writing styles is court documents. Often decisions about complicated legal issues are delivered in plain language that allows the average member of the public to understand how the judge arrived at the verdict.
Let yourself be inspired by the power of simplicity and clarity in the writing of other professionals, and soon you will find yourself engaging the same qualities in your own communication style.
Need help writing your resume or other career-advancing materials? Schedule a free consultation with a career coach!