It's becoming a regular occurrence.
Not because I'm the go-to resources for all questions about business writing.
Or because I vanquished my former nemesis, the colossal writing challenge, and emerged victorious, with a perfectly crafted piece of content.
Or because I have, in a eureka moment, uncovered the secret to writing with simplicity, brevity and clarity and have been sharing the knowledge with all who desire to become more effective communicators.
So when an experienced and business-savvy executive, in a coaching session I recently completed, asked me the most frustrating question about writing, I simply shared what I constantly do to hone my skills.
I told him to develop and maintain a habit of reading regularly and to simply 'do it'; that is, to write.
He stared at me in disbelief, clearly unconvinced about the effectiveness of my advice.
I thus decided to explain the usefulness of the tips given. After all, what good am I, as a communications advisor, if I cannot adapt my style to educate or persuade?
Now I know this isn't what you want to hear, being the stressed-out professional that you are, juggling multiple tasks and dealing with deadlines, unreasonable bosses and uncertainties.
But there's no way around this. Unless you develop a habit of reading good material on a daily basis (for quicker results), or a few times a week at least, you will NOT improve your writing skills.
Good leaders and ultra-successful people attest to the principle of reading good books. I learnt that Warren Buffet, an investment savant and excellent writer, who is praised for his exceptional annual letters to shareholders, is a voracious reader. Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and many others also read for 'self-education' rather than for entertainment.
Not only does reading amplify your knowledge, increase your vocabulary and improve your overall communication skills, it does two things you don't immediately realise:
A) It exposes you to different styles and nuances in writing
Your brain, like a sponge, will soak up interesting expressions, new concepts and unusual constructions. At some point, all these things will seep into your writing; they will enrich your content and help you develop a unique writing 'voice'. Oh and your grammar improves as well.
B) It makes you more discerning by sharpening your cognitive abilities
You will begin to question things, uncover hidden meanings, and analyse what isn't being stated. Your imagination will also stretch and you will become a more rounded individual.
Free online resources to encourage reading
Well, there are numerous resources online, which you could, and should read. You could assess online versions of important media outfits such as Bloomberg, The Harvard Business Review, The Economist, The New York Times, etc. Some demand paid subscriptions after a certain number of free articles but you have various options available on the Internet. Other free resources include articles from the Reuters, CNN or BBC websites.
More often than not, your favourite local newspaper has an online version. A word of caution though: Only read newspapers where error-free content is guaranteed and where journalists are experienced, respected professionals. You do yourself no favours by reading pieces rife with grammatical errors and/or written in sub-standard business English.
If you prefer using social media, a good repertoire of interesting short and long-form content is LinkedIn Pulse. Now LinkedIn has granted access to everyone to publish on its platform, so be very selective. Not all content featured on LinkedIn Pulse is written in standard business language. A good rule of thumb is to start reading articles written by respected 'influencers', such as Arianna Huffington, Guy Kawasaki, Richard Branson, etc. Note their writing styles, 'tones' and sentence structures. A bonus of this platform is that you could download it as a mobile app for easy access.
I also recommend reading blogs that publish short but useful articles. On Twitter, I 'follow' and regularly read posts from Copyblogger; Mashable; Business Insider; The Entrepreneur; etc. Most of these sites enjoy huge 'followings' on social media, especially on Twitter and Facebook, so you'd be spoilt for choice.
What is important is to be disciplined enough to read regularly and widely, (yes even outside your field). Perfect this habit and watch your writing skills become more polished and your content, richer.
2) Write often even when you doubt your ability
If you deal with sensitive information or if your clients/business partners demand a certain degree of formality in their communications, formal writing skills are crucial for effectiveness.
Given that writing with clarity is an important goal of successful communication, this post from Inc. provides four simple tips you should use to write with clarity and substance.
Note also that storytelling is a valuable tool for creating content that influences your target audience to take action. It's also becoming important for personal and professional brands. Let's all learn to get it right.
I 'discovered' Quora about a year ago. It is an interesting site whereby knowledge is shared by professionals from different fields...for free. Registration is also free, allowing you to choose topics of interest and sign up for email digests. For example, I stumbled upon a response from Tom Corson Knowles on Quora, where he listed a treasure trove of online and offline resources for writers/authors.
Naturally, not all of us aspire to become bestselling authors; we simply want to improve our writing chops at work. Note that what is required for the progress you seek, is a disciplined mindset and a persevering attitude. Remember that you're responsible for this aspect of your professional development; therefore make yourself accountable for your writing.
It will pay off sooner than you think when you're singled out for a promotion.
I can only hope that the executive whom I recently coached—whose concerns about writing prompted me to write this post—would become motivated to try some of the tips given.
If you enjoyed this post, don't rush off just yet. Please remember to: