It’s not your fault you can’t write well (but you can do something about it)

Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels

If you are a late Baby-Boomer, a Gen X, Y, Millennial or the demographic that is in education today, you missed out at school.

In the 70s, 80s and subsequent decades, literacy and English education underwent a major change.

Our schools stopped teaching grammar in a formal, structured (and boring) way and adopted more of an immersive approach. It meant English classes were more about reading, comprehension and expression. In this way, most of us learnt the fundamentals of communication perfectly well: We know not to say ‘The cat are hungry’ or ‘Give food cat’.

We were still taught the basics of punctuation and essay-writing, so for the majority of our day-to-day communication, we get along fine.

But the unintended consequence of making school more engaging and effective is a large group of professionals who aren’t writing as well as they could. When we write for business, the stakes are high. We need to be unambiguous, clear, concise, polite and professional.

People often skim-read business emails. If our writing is confusing or unfocussed, we can lose an opportunity.

 That’s a problem when few of us were explicitly taught about active writing, sentence development, clear or concise expression. Even fewer people have a good grasp of when to choose between words like who or whom and which or that.

To fill the void, most of us have learnt by observation and modelling: How do our peers in the industry express themselves? How does the boss write? But that only works if those role models are good writers.

When Shine consultants speak with senior professionals about the way they write, they often describe feeling unsure about the correct tone of voice, sentence structure and punctuation in modern business writing.

This is especially true for people who have managed to hide behind formality and complexity in their professional communications. Now that we are expected to adhere more closely to ‘plain English’ writing, it can be uncomfortable.

Fortunately, there are many ways to polish up your professional writing. These range from published style guides to online seminars to face-to-face workshops.

Workshop attendees usually find a single day-long programme is enough to make a significant difference in their written effectiveness and confidence, especially when we tailor the content to their organisation’s tone and ‘brand voice’.

Being literate and writing well are not the same thing, but help is at hand to ensure the quality of your words matches the quality of your ideas.

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