Good writing is rare in business. Yes, this is a bold statement, but from what I’ve seen, it’s true. While people lament the failure of the American educational system to train our kids for a future in STEM, they’ve also failed to teach writing basics. The ability to write well is essential, regardless of your field or industry.
This isn’t a new problem. My eighth grade English teacher—frustrated by the horrible quality of our writing assignments—made us watch Schoolhouse Rock! to refresh our grasp of the basics of our language. Fast forward a few years and I find myself cursing an executive under my breath at my summer job as I type a letter for him and find myself completely rewriting it. When he asked me why I rewrote it, I explained to him that the original didn’t make sense. He looked embarrassed and pissed at the same time; I felt intellectually superior.
In graduate school, we were tasked with proofreading and providing feedback on the project proposals of our peers. I could spot the students in my cohort with the science background based on the poor sentence structure of the proposal. Apparently pronouns aren’t popular in STEM fields.
After graduate school, I was the low woman on the totem pole in the marketing department of the construction division of a large multinational insurance broker. Most my job entailed assembling responses to requests for proposals (RFPs). For the first few weeks, I did as I was trained and copied and pasted canned copy from Word document to Word document. One day I actually read it and realized that many of the sentences weren’t sentences at all. They didn’t have verbs, the protein building block of any sentence. I took it upon myself to rewrite most of the copy.
My point is that you didn’t have to major in English in college to become a good writer. I didn’t major in English in college; I majored in anthropology. But, writing was the core of the curriculum. Practice, and lots of it, improved my writing skills.
3 Ways to Improve Your Writing Now
Practice: Even if you’re not a writer, you should practice writing every day, or at least several times a week. Take 5 minutes out of your morning to write about anything: your shoes, the sound of the jackhammer outside, it doesn’t matter. Just write.
Edit: Refine everything that you write. Never send a first draft, even if it’s just an email. Remember: Your ability to communicate influences how you’re viewed. If the reader spots an obvious typo, or if the message of your copy is convoluted, you may lose credibility and respect. Or, it may lead to miscommunication and strife. Take the time to give your writing—all of it—a once over.
Read: The easiest way to become a better writer is to read. Read everything you can get into your hot little hands. Take note of what you like and dislike about the writer’s style as well as any areas of refinement.