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Build Effective Written Communication

While it is often overlooked, developing strong written communication skills is essential to succeed in the workplace, and spell check isn't the only tool you need to excel. Below are some tips that will help you to polish your writing skills.

  1. Organize your thoughts beforehand: To avoid rambling, develop and organize the message you want to convey to your audience before even touching the keys of the keyboard. Whether you are writing a long report, or a short email to your professor or boss, organizing your thoughts will ensure you are clear in your communication. You can accomplish this by simply jotting down several ideas before writing the document or writing a rough outline before you get started.
  2. Stick to your topic: Although it can be tempting to jump to a new topic of greater interest to you, be sure you stay focused and stick to the original topic. The message of the document will be clearer if you choose to do so. Remain focused throughout the document for the most effective message.
  3. Avoid using clichés or slang: Using clichés or slang in your document will weaken the ultimate message you want to communicate. Slang may be appropriate in an email to your friend, but in your professional life, try to avoid it to gain credibility with your audience. The same logic applies to using clichés—try not to use them!
  4. Clarify any requests or terms: In the body of your document, avoid using ambiguous terms such as "soon," "too much," or "just enough." If you use these terms, you are opening the door for miscommunication. Your audience may interpret "soon" as the end of the week, when really you may need your request to be filled by the end of the day. To avoid misinterpretation, quantify any measurements, time periods, or dates.
  5. Check the spelling of names and companies: It's true; spell check is a great tool. However, it won't save you from sending a message to the recruiter of a company you aspire to work for named Fred addressed as "Fried." Not smooth. Great care should always be taken to read over the names of companies and people to make sure you don't offend anyone, or lose credibility.
  6. Keep sentences short: If you can say what you want to say in three paragraphs, why write five? Extra text doesn't necessarily enhance the message. Sometimes it just buries it and bores the reader. Tighten up your text. Make each word count. Every sentence should convey something meaningful. You don't want to appear curt or abrupt, but avoiding lengthy sentences will be clearer for the reader to understand.
  7. Explain any foreign or technical terms or references: Don't attempt to impress your reader by using technical jargon or complex word choices when a simpler choice would have sufficed. You should not assume that the reader will understand this jargon, and after all, you want them to actually understand what you are trying to say! If the technical or complex term or reference does not add to the relevance of your document, leave it out. Otherwise, consider explaining the term or at the very least be sure your audience will understand the terminology.
  8. Anticipate Questions: As you are writing, try to anticipate what questions, if any, your reader will have. Then answer them right away. Your reader will benefit from being informed up-front and you'll save on additional correspondence or communications to answer those questions later.
  9. Professional formatting: Since you probably aren't texting your boss or professor the message, be sure to keep it professional. Address the letter, include a salutation, and write in paragraph form just as you would write a normal letter.
  10. Proofread your work: If possible, wait an hour or two before proofreading your message. Frequently, you will find small or subtle errors you might otherwise have missed when you were caught up in drafting your message. At the very least, read through the document once or twice to ensure you haven't made any errors. Errors will immediately shatter your credibility with the reader - which is the last thing you want!