The purpose of written communication is to engage your reader and convey your message clearly. Most roles in the workplace will need written communication skills to some extent. This may include writing emails, taking meeting minutes or producing reports. Effective written communication is what can help get you into the workplace in the first instance, in the form of a CV and cover letter.
Possessing strong written communication skills is essential in the work environment and a good way to capture the attention of recruiters. So, it's worth putting time and effort into working on them.
In this article, we discuss why written communication skills are important and share some tips and examples to help you improve yours.
Why written communication skills are important
An essential element of communication is the written type. Verbal communication, unless recorded, is not lasting. Written communication, however, lasts and can be referred to in the future.
Written communication skills allow you to put your perspective or ideas into words in a way that is easy to understand. These skills also ensure that the lasting impact a piece of your written communication may leave on its audience is the desired one.
Even though your job may not need you to do a lot of writing, how you come across when you do need to communicate through writing is important. Being equipped with written communication skills can benefit your career and many other areas of your life too.
Essential elements of effective written communication
What forms good written communication will depend on a few things. These may include, who your audience is, the topic of discussion and your reason for communicating, amongst other things. However, four essential elements form the basis of all good written communication:
One of the building blocks of effective written communication is being able to make a connection between yourself and your reader. To effectively connect with your audience your writing must engage them. There are a few methods for achieving this. These may include giving your audience a feeling of ownership, creating a tone of familiarity and cordiality and generating a sense of urgency.
Clarity and Conciseness
While creative and overly expressive writing has its place, it is usually not the business environment. Written communication skills involve the ability to communicate specific information clearly and concisely. This is done through the precise choice of words and sentence structure. Don't meander around. Aim to get your point across without including excessive amounts of information.
Time is money. Especially in the workplace. Many people will not have time to sift through your writing looking for its objective. To communicate the cause, you need to understand it well yourself. You should mention the cause of your written communication early on in the piece. If you need your audience to take a specific action, this also needs to be clearly defined.
For written communication to be effective, it helps for it to be correct in every sense. This includes the correct use of tone, language, grammar and formatting. It's a good idea to never rely solely on spellcheck for correctness because there's a lot more to getting it right than spelling and punctuation alone.
Tips for improving your written communication skills
Effective writing involves presenting information in a way your intended audience can understand and act upon with ease. Below are a few tips and examples to help you improve the way you communicate through writing:
Clearly define your goal
To clearly define your goal through written communications, you need to have a deep understanding of it. So, don't begin writing before you have an end goal in mind. This will help you maintain clarity and focus when writing. Whether the goal is to inform the reader or act on it, make it known as close to the beginning of the message as possible. Start with key information and lead on with the details required to understand or act on it. Structuring your written communications this way gets your point across, even if the reader skim reads it.
I hope you are well.
Recently I spotted a job advertisement for the position of marketing coordinator at ABC Corp on Indeed. As I am aware you've been working there for a few years, I'm hoping you may be willing to give me a referral for the role.
I was excited to see that the position involves working closely with you and your team on campaign development. I have gained considerable experience in Google Analytics and best SEO practices since we last worked together at XYZ Corp. I'd love to put these skills to good use at ABC Corp.
Attached is a copy of my CV. Please let me know if you need any further information or if you'd like to see examples of some of the projects I have worked on.
Use plain English
You can save a lot of time and space by using 'plain English' in your written communications. Not only does this help get your message across, but it helps you to make efficient use of limited space. Writing in 'plain English' is a powerful way of getting noticed in the business world. Bureaucratic or creative writing is not always simple to read. It can increase the risk of your message being misconstrued. Sometimes less is more and in written communications it often is.
"I'm writing about the job you advertised on Indeed" instead of "I'm writing to you with regards to the job advertised by your company on Indeed".
Keep it short and to the point
Readability is a key element of good written communication. You can increase the readability of your writing by using a combination of short words, sentences and paragraphs. Complicated words, long sentences and never-ending paragraphs slow a reader down. It's important to not veer off-topic. Stick to the point. Keep it relevant by avoiding buzzwords, cliches, repetition and any other fluff. The longer written communications are, the more enticed people are to skim read. So, only include essential information.
Below are a few good examples of quick questions to ask yourself at the end of every sentence you write:
- Is the message clear?
- Does the reader need this detail to understand the message?
- Is this written most simply and directly?
Use active voice
There are two grammatical voices: passive and active. A key step to enhancing your writing skills is getting familiar with using active voice. Sentences written using an active voice are easier to understand. When using an active voice, the subject of a sentence performs the verb's action.
"The teller counted the money" instead of "the money was counted by the teller".
Get the grammar right
If grammar isn't your strong point, there are a lot of writing tools that can help you. It's also beneficial to ask someone to proofread your writing. A fresh pair of eyes can be good at picking up things you may have missed.
Below are some vital grammatical basics to take note of:
- End sentences with a full stop.
- Possessives need an apostrophe, plurals do not (business's vs businesses).
- Make appropriate use of American or Australian spelling (utilize vs utilise).
- Commas are for pauses in sentences and should not replace a full stop.
When delivering written communications that are formal, avoid over-styling your writing. Wacky fonts and wild colours can distract your reader from the message. Similarly, excessive use of bold, capital letters and italics can have the same effect. If you're writing non-personal communications, they should also be free of emoticons or any other kind of "art".
Showcasing your written communication skills
Having written communication skills is beneficial at every stage of your career, from securing a position to performing optimally in it. Below are some of the occasions where you can showcase your writing abilities:
On your CV
Of all written communications, your CV should be easy to read and highly focussed on the important information. Bullet points, lists and clear headlines help communicate your strengths, experience and achievements.
In your cover letter
A cover letter provides the perfect opportunity for you to showcase your written communication skills. You can do this by weaving key details into well-structured sentences with an engaging narrative. Cover letters are usually more detailed than a CV. However, they should still be less than a page long and able to tell your story with a defined purpose.
In your daily work communications
It's not unusual to have to send emails on almost a daily basis in many jobs. When communicating to your colleagues over writing, it's important that you come across as professional, credible and friendly. Your email should also include specific information and clear instructions for any next steps required.
In presentations and reports
Presentations and reports are where you and your team can inform the rest of the company on what you have been working on, what you have achieved and what your goals and forecasts are in the future. A great presentation or report is one that everybody in the organisation can understand, even those who are in a different department.