Now that we can conduct nearly anything about business online, your ability to write—and write well—is more important than ever.
Yet we rarely read help articles that actually help, job descriptions that accurately depict job function, or executive emails that provide solid direction.
That’s probably because the people who wrote them don’t consider themselves writers.
It’s easier to firmly place all of the writing responsibility on the marketing team because they’re “the creative ones,” but in reality, everyone is a writer, because everyone writes. If you send emails, write Facebook posts, or text, you’re a writer.
As Ann Handley argues in Everybody Writes, it can be intimidating to put your writer’s hat on, especially if you have a technical background. Though you may have learned complex wiring or coding or even executive leadership, you may have no idea how to string two sentences together.
To become a writer, you have to get rid of the notion that writing is dissimilar to speaking.
When you walk over to someone’s office to ask a question, you probably don’t think about the words and phrases you use to ask it. (I mean, are there really that many ways to say, “Hey, do you have an extra pen by any chance?”) When you begin the writing process, it’s very much the same. Don’t think—write.
Also read: Soft Skills That Will Get You Hired
Let everything out that’s in your head. Don’t worry about phrasing, grammar, or flow. Write gobbledygook if you need to. Just move the thoughts from ideas into actual words on paper. Ann Handley calls this act of writing the SFD (sh*tty first draft), and it should be your equivalent of a mind map or brainstorm. Nothing is off limits, because…
Real writing is real editing.
Take what you wrote and now cut 50% of it. Yes, you read that right. 5-0. You need to eliminate the equivalent of “likes,” “ums,” and “y’knows.” Sometimes, when we write, we use the act of writing to figure out what we’re going to say. That’s ok for the first draft, but it needs to be ruthlessly cut down in the editing phase. Ask any writer and they’ll tell you: most of the work they put in isn’t in the writing, it’s in the editing.
Think about what your audience needs to hear versus what you want to say. Now that you’ve put all your ideas on the page, pick and choose the most important points and go from there. Organize what you wrote into coherent thoughts and arguments. Back up your opinions with data and spell check, spell check, spell check.
Editing doesn’t always mean cutting; it can be fleshing out the more important ideas or rewriting sentences, so they pack more punch. It can be adding calls to action to make sure your reader knows where to go after they read what you’ve written, or double checking your sources and facts.
Just remember to edit. And if you can, show it to someone else, preferably someone in your target audience. They can point out the flaws in your argument (or even the typos!) better than you can. If that’s not an option, try running it through readability software or something more comprehensive, like Grammarly can help.
Don’t be paralyzed by fear: start writing.
They say you should “write what you know,” and that’s true. If you’re more interested in writing as a profession, you have to start writing. Luckily, you don’t need to pay for a domain or a personal blog to do it—hop on over to Medium, a social network designed for long-form reading and writing, and go.
Now before you say, “But I don’t know anything!” you do. Go back to your resume and re-read how you describe your job. You probably know a lot about what you do every day, and chances are other people have no idea what it entails. If you’re stuck, go through your day step by step. Think about what questions people ask you and answer them. If you were describing what you do to your parents or grandparents, what would they not understand?
If you’re stuck, there are plenty of ways to find out what’s popular or what people are talking about. If it’s for your company, talk to customer support or sales to figure out the pain points about your product. What are you helping to solve? What questions come up frequently about your product or service? Alternatively, you can search for questions on sites like Quora or Google Trends. What are people trying to know? What are they searching for?
The best content helps the reader to understand an idea better than they did before. So: what do you know? Go out there and tell the world.