Write Better at Work

May 14, 2018 - posted by Josh Smith

Writing well is the bedrock of work communications. People write to each other all the time at work. They communicate with text in different modes but the main objective is consistent no matter what; convey your idea that will persist with a common language. I’ll provide you some tips so you can write better at work.

At work, that message usually takes form in three ways, chat messages, email, or documentation. Here’s my list of how I communicate better at work. I ensure that my recipient gets my message exactly.

Check your spelling

This is an easy one, but it’s also easy to miss. Using the wrong “theirs” or “it’s” happens, but in a professional setting you should ensure that your writing reflects the kind of professional you are, but more importantly the kind you strive to be.

There are many of the misspellings and confusions of words out there. A simple Google search is practically instantaneous. Without trivializing forms of communications some mistakes are more forgivable than others depending on where the mistake happened. If you use the incorrect “it’s” in a chat with your coworker, it is far less egregious than making the same mistake in a proposal that your bosses boss will see. Strong leaders will take ownership of your mistakes and consider them a failure upon themselves by lack of training or poor hiring.

Check your grammar

Grammar is easy to confuse because the way we write is not necessarily the way we speak. A good example of this is the use of abbreviations and truncations of words when we talk. For example, invite versus invitation. The word invite is a verb that means to ask someone to join you. An invitation is a noun defined as a request for someone to you join you. We commonly use invite as in, “Send me an invite to the party”. This is grammatically incorrect, but it commonly used in casual settings. When writing for more formal settings like work emails and proposals this confusion should be understood and avoided. After all, the difference between the two words is four characters and chasm of quiet judgment.

Leverage tools to help you

It would be difficult to never miss a misspelled word or not use the correct voice. That is why most (I actually can’t think of one that doesn’t) word processing applications have that functionality built in. Even basic text editors like TextEdit have it.

I prefer Grammarly, the Chrome extension, but there are plenty out there. Find one that works for you, not against you. Also, don’t trust the tools 100% they can still make mistakes for which you have to be accountable.

Treat your text right

One of the best ways to help your readers understand your message is to use headings, bolds, and italics in your text. Those simple text treatments help your readers visually differentiate sections of your text. I use them heavily in emails. I usually start with Objective, Background, and Summary. If I need more sections like Contrast or Details, I’ll add it. The specific situation shall determine. Generally, I have the same audience so I don’t get clever. I give them the same look so they can scan through the message and determine the meaning.

Use templates

Many email clients have built-in responses. Many people refer to those pejoratively as canned responses. They don’t have to be soulless, they just have to help you convey your message. I like to use Text Expander to populate my canned responses. I use the form fill option where once my text is expanded I am presented with a form to fill in personal details like first name, date, subject, etc. I don’t have a large need for a canned response, but many do and typing unique messages dozens of times a day can be a morale killer. People understand which brings me to my final point.

Respect Readers’ Time

Give your readers a message worth their time. Your audience is probably as busy as you so treat them with the respect that you’d want. Keep your messages short but respectful. If it is a reply then answer any questions they have. If it is an initial contact or a proposal try to foresee any questions they may have after reading and answer them in the message. If your message is long then break up the sections with headings. People don’t have a lot of time to groom their emails inboxes so keep your message important.

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