Read any position description for a senior role and you will find written communication skills on the list of key selection criteria. Unless you've had tertiary or vocational training in writing, you may find writing for work a chore.
It doesn't need to be.
Whether you are writing a business case, board paper, blog post or job application, these five tips will help you craft writing that is persuasive and compelling.
- Know your audience
You probably wouldn't wear the same outfit to a job interview as you would on a date. This is because your audience is different. The same goes for writing. You need to understand what interests, motivates and moves your audience when writing for them. You also need clear objectives. Are you trying to influence them to a decision, reassure them about a risk, or prompt them into action? Adjust your "voice" as well as the type of information you present depending on your audience and the medium you are writing for. Whether you are working with 140 characters in a Twitter message, or 140 pages in a discussion paper, always keep it professional. Remember that social media messages can be broadcast way beyond your intended audience.
- Tell a story
If it feels boring to write something, it will most likely be boring to read too. If you are looking for ways to liven up your writing and move your audience, try telling a story. In her recent book Power Stories, Valerie Khoo says we absorb stories more easily than lists and data, and points out how stories are fundamental to humans and can inspire, influence and move people. Leave your bullet points behind and summon up the power of storytelling that you enjoy in books and films.
- Avoid jargon
You don't need fancy words to convey fancy ideas. Many of us fall into the trap of writing in corporate speak – using bureaucratic, passive language. The result is dry and inaccessible writing. Whenever you can, use simple, direct and active language. Use short sentences. Avoid jargon. This will help make your writing more engaging. It will be easier to understand. It can take practise and patience to change your writing style after years of writing like an automaton but you can do it.
- Use visual information
With the proliferation of information we all encounter via email, social media, advertising, and in our in-trays, it becomes more difficult to grab your readers' attention. The next time you need to convey complex information consider alternatives to text-based information, such as video. You can shoot and edit a simple video on a smartphone or tablet that is suitable for a presentation or intranet. And it's fun to experiment with new formats and technologies.
- Learn from the experts
Is there a writer whose work you admire? If you know and trust them, ask them for feedback on drafts of your writing. They are likely to be flattered. If you don't know them, read and analyse their writing. What works, what elements do you like, what tone and language do they use, how do they structure their writing? You can apply what you learn to improve your writing. If you are really interested in developing your writing abilities, learn from the experts by doing a course such as one offered by the Australian Writers' Centre.