Writing effectively is essential because without it your emails will grow into huge email conversations, or the essence of your report will be lost, or your pitch for that extra person will miss its mark. These 11 Tips to Improve Your Written Communication Skills will help you to write more effective emails and reports. Just remember ‘Shakespeare’.
S – Tip Number 1 for How to Improve your Written Communication Skills – Use Short Sentences
The UK Government does not write sentences longer than 25 words. The writing guru Ann Wylie suggests that at 14 words the reader achieves 90% comprehension and at 43 words that understanding reduces to 10%. 14 words is the average number of words on a row in a Microsoft Word document at font 12.
Action: Use more shorter sentences. 14 words is optimum. One to two rows on a Microsoft Word document.
H – Tip Number 2 for How to Improve your Written Communication Skills – No High Brow Words
We all have at least a few high brow words that we could use. We learnt them from a colleague, or a boss, then we researched them and now know what they mean. It makes us feel good to use them. My advice – Don’t. A colleague uses ‘juxtaposition’. When I first heard it I had to find out what it meant, though I’d got the gist from the conversation. It means ‘the fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect’. In my words it’s about opposites. We could all use more simple language to explain it without having to use that word. Sometimes you’ll need to use a word that has no replacement. Use these rarely.
Action: Avoid using high brow words. Use simple language instead.
A – Tip Number 3 for How to Improve your Written Communication Skills – Call To Action
Those people that create websites, marketing copy, and advertising, want us to do something. They know what they want us to do. It is very clear and one of the first things that they do – Identify what they want us to do.
Above is a ‘Landing Page’ for one of our reports. We have made the Call To Action very clear because not only do you know what we want, to ‘enter your email address’, it is also the only option that you have!
Action: Decide what you want your reader, at the end of your report/email, to do, even before you start reading. Be very clear on the actionable next step that you want them to take having read your email/report.
K – Tip Number 4 for How to Improve your Written Communication Skills – Key Messages
How often have you read an email and then read it again? Probably because the writer wasn’t clear on they key messages. They didn’t know what they were really trying to say and more ‘vomited on a page’, as our American cousins would say. Be careful, that you if aren’t clear what you wanted to say, then don’t be surprised that the reader isn’t clear either.
Identify what your key message is and say it loud. Write that message down before you start. For example, if you are looking for more resource, make sure you make this message clear in your email/report by writing it down – ‘Agreement to funding for one more person‘. If you have more than one message, the rule of thumb is to have 3 key messages and then to say them loudly and proudly.
Action: Before you start to write, write your key messages/s on a separate piece of paper to remind you.
E – Tip Number 5 for How to Improve your Written Communication Skills – Evoke Emotion
Your report/email needs to ‘stir’ the person, unlike the newspaper headline above. You don’t want your reader to end the paper thinking, ‘So what’, ‘Who cares?’. You want their emotion stirred. Do you want to motivate them to action because they are proud to share the report, angry to forward the email, or maybe excited to use the text? One of the most famous The Sun newspaper headlines was, ‘Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster’. For me this stirred, ‘Ewwww, How could he?!’.
Action: Which emotion do you want to store in your reader?
S – Tip Number 6 for How to Improve your Written Communication Skills – Be Succinct
The dictionary definition of ‘succinct’ is to be brief and clearly expressed. There is a famous phrase that is useful to keep in mind, ‘I’m sorry I wrote a long report, but I didn’t have time to write a short one’. A fabulous quote because it sums up that so often we just write a lengthy document of our thoughts rather than deciding what we really need to say.
It’s hard to be succinct. It relies on knowing what we want the reader to take away.
Action: If you have written a lengthy report, be brutal with your editing. Delete. Re-write paragraphs. Volume does not equal comprehension.
P – Tip Number 7 for How to Improve your Written Communication Skills – Not Passive, Active
This article by Quick and Dirty Tips explains the active Vs the passive voice very well:
What Is Active Voice?
I’ll start with active voice because it’s simpler. In an active sentence, the subject is doing the action. A straightforward example is the sentence “Steve loves Amy.” Steve is the subject, and he is doing the action: he loves Amy, the object of the sentence.
Another example is the title of the Marvin Gaye song “I Heard It through the Grapevine.” “I” is the subject, the one who is doing the action. “I” is hearing “it,” the object of the sentence.
What Is Passive Voice?
In passive voice, the target of the action gets promoted to the subject position. Instead of saying, “Steve loves Amy,” I would say, “Amy is loved by Steve.” The subject of the sentence becomes Amy, but she isn’t doing anything. Rather, she is just the recipient of Steve’s love. The focus of the sentence has changed from Steve to Amy.
An example in business would be:
Passive – ‘At a cost of £x per annum for the ABC team hiring one extra person is my recommendation’.
Active – ‘I recommend hiring one additional person for the ABC team at a cost of £1x per annum is my recommendation.’
Action: You will engage your reader much more if you understand how to write actively.This article from dailywritingtips will help.
E – Tip Number 8 for How to Improve your Written Communication Skills – Exclude Speed Bumps
You’re driving. Pleasant enough journey. Chatting to your wife and kids. Then the car jumps. A speed bump. You were jolted away from what you were talking about and now concentrating a little harder on getting passed the next speed bump and the one after that, until they finish. Writing is the same. A speed bump in writing does the same, jolts you out of the flow and opens your reticular filter to look for more speed bumps.
An example of writing speed bumps could be a spelling error, poor grammar, page numbers not in the right order, using words wrongly, jargon, or bullet points that don’t all start with a verb.
Action: Remove speed bumps from your writing as you write and when you review your piece afterwards. This article from Harvard Business Review explains more.
A – Tip Number 9 for How to Improve your Written Communication Skills – Dear Aunt…
Write as if you are writing to your Aunt. When we read material written in a conversational style that mentions I and you, it talks to us directly. This makes the communication very real and personal; we pay attention just the same as if we were having a face to face conversation.
Most of us have been brought up to believe that business language is stiff and formal. That we must adopt a different style to get our business message across. Just like our advice when you go to a meeting – Be yourself. In writing my advice is to be yourself. Just ensure that you are credible because spelling and grammatical mistakes still annoy many.
Action: Write as though you are writing to a good business friend as you sit and have coffee.
R – Tip Number 10 for How to Improve your Written Communication Skills – Remove Jargon
Every industry has its jargon. Here’s our industry’s jargon. Yes, there’s a lot of it. Some people even pride themselves on knowing it all and using it wherever they can.
In the TV series Spooks there is a wonderful piece of script where the US Secret Service are paranoid about their President’s visit to the UK and spill into Secret Service Military jargon about ‘Hot LZ’s’, ‘Bolo’, and ‘Blackbag’. Then MI5 nicely expose them for being jargon assessed.
Action: The best option is not to use jargon because you cannot assume that everyone knows it.
E – Tip Number 11 for How to Improve your Written Communication Skills – Effective Structure
I was always taught by Mr Clifford, my English teacher, ‘Smith – where is the middle? You just have a start and an end’. Did I say ‘taught’?! At the very least your report needs a start, middle and an end. To have an effective structure you need to break your report into sections. The brain can manage 7’s really well and little beyond 7. So, I suggest having a maximum of 7 sections and those sections should be numbered or lettered to make it really clear.
The best way to start writing is not to. Start with a mind map because it will enable you to ‘get it all out of your head’. Then you can identify the sections and the names of those sections, and then transfer those to email/word and begin writing.
Action: Create an effective structure before you start. Above is an example of an email that has been structured.