Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Most Frustrating Question About Writing...Answered

It's becoming a regular occurrence.

A well-dressed executive, sitting across the table from me, a worried expression etched on his face, inevitably asks:

"How do I become a better writer?"

Then I sigh.

Not because I'm the go-to resource 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. 

I often sigh because I recognise the dilemma we all face as professionals. Whether you're a seasoned business writer or just finding your 'voice', it is often a battle to produce impromptu pieces required to influence, refute, inform or confirm.

And what if you need to address a crisis and respond in a timely manner, without recourse to your company's official     communicators, or to that friend of yours who’s a wordsmith?

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?

Below are the two simple steps I suggested which will improve his skills, as well as your business writing. 

1) Read regularly and extensively

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

But what if you simply don’t have the time to read hardcover books?

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. Now LinkedIn has granted access to everyone to publish on its platform, so be  selective. Not all content featured on LinkedIn 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

Write every other day if you can manage it.

Since you’ll be required to write emails multiple times during a workweek, you’ll need to hone the art of email writing. Emails, once an informal mode of business communication—second in importance to official business letters sent via courier in the past—is now increasingly demanded. Learning how to write powerful business emails that get you desired results is a discernible advantage you will have over your peers.

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.

It might be relatively easy to develop a habit of reading regularly and extensively.

Writing, on the other hand, demands more mental energy and creates anxiety.

I understand completely because I too have those moments of dread. But take the plunge and begin with the basics: Write shorter sentences, (preferably no longer than 20 words in the beginning); check your grammar and proofread thoroughly, (I recommend reading your content audibly after writing); use simple sentence structures; and watch your punctuation.

Read even if you don't 'feel like it' and write, even when that inner critic tells you you're no good.

And this is how you become a better writer over time.

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Need help with improving your communication skills?  

Hire me for:

- Communications training sessions for your executives;

- Writing assignments (content creation, executive speeches, etc.);

- Speeches and keynote presentations at your corporate events.

Let me help you get results. 

Contact me:

A) Send an email to:

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N.B-   First image courtesy of Stuart Miles; via Second image courtesy of Bluebay; via Third image courtesy of Adamr; via Fourth image courtesy of Iosphere; via Last image courtesy of Master Isolated Images; via


  1. Yes, these tips really motivated a lot to read a lot of useful books to be a good writer. Especially I liked the second tip more which states—write often even when you doubt your ability. Yes, this is one of the crucial things for writing you’ve mentioned. What happens is, sometimes we feel we can do anything, and sometimes think no, it’s not possible with me! The moment you think this negative thing in your mind, take a test of yourself instantly. You’ll see the magic there. The negative statement will turn into a positive approach for sure!

  2. Hello Anand.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, self-doubt is a major obstacle to actually writing and sometimes we just have to quash those negative feelings and just get on with it.

    Pop back soon!

  3. Everything we do has something to do with communication. Often we think it is something that happens when we are talking or listening. We accept that the person hearing the information doesn't necessarily need to be present (e.g. watching the television or listening on the radio) but we know that for communication to have taken place, something must have happened within the listener. It also has to do with understanding the intent of the person speaking and acceptance of that information or the meaning intended by the speaker.dcitltd

  4. Interesting perspective on communication. Thanks for your comment Rose.


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