You might be able to compute complex financial equations, create the perfect cash flow statement and find the needle in a haystack of raw data. However, these impressive skills won’t get you far if you can’t write about them clearly in an email, report or presentation.
Ask employers what they want from college graduates and existing employees, and they’ll invariably put written communication skills at the top of the list. In a 2015 report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 82 percent of survey respondents said written communication skills is a priority for graduates. In comparison, only 70 percent cited complex problem solving as a priority, and only 60 percent cited technological skills.
While written skills are a priority, employers just don’t see enough of it among college graduates. A recent CareerBuilder report says that more than one-third of respondents believe recent college graduates simply lack adequate writing skills.
Why Good Writing Is Important in the Business World
There’s a relationship between how well you write and how high you will rise in your career, according to research done by Grammarly (a popular grammar-checking web-based service) and published in the Harvard Business Review. The research looked at how many mistakes professionals made in their LinkedIn profiles and how quickly they had advanced in their careers. Those making fewer grammatical errors:
Had higher positions in their respective companies
Had more promotions
Were able to change jobs more frequently
As Grammarly and the HBR explain, grammar skills relate to traits needed in the business world, including:
Attention to detail
Bad grammar can even cost you a job. Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, won’t even hire people with poor grammar skills. In 2012, he wrote that he requires all new hires take a grammar test; those who fail aren’t employed, no matter what other talents they might bring to the organization.
Tips to Improve Your Writing
Here are some ways to improve your writing:
Be organized: There’s nothing more intimidating than a blank page in Microsoft Word or your email program. Take a little time to think about what you want to say, what the key points are and who the audience is. For a short email or memo, you might want to jot down a few notes on a scrap of paper. For longer documents, it is preferable to develop a formal outline to follow. By thinking things through before typing a single word, you’ll be able to organize your thoughts logically and keep your writing on point.
Respect the reader’s time: Don’t leave the reader guessing what they’re reading about or what they need to do. Put the most important points at the top of your email or document, use bullets and subheads to simplify and break up text and cut out any excess information.
Avoid jargon: Writers use buzzwords and ten-dollar words to make them look smart. In reality, confusing or convoluted syntax is always a poor choice. You don’t want your reader to scratch his or her head, reach for a dictionary or feel uninformed. Never dumb down your writing, but always make it accessible to your audience.
Read and read again: People are prone to make mistakes as they’re writing, especially today where it’s easy to jump around the text and edit at the same time as you’re writing. Once you’re done, set your email or document aside for a few minutes, and then read it again critically. Don’t just look for grammar mistakes. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes, and ask yourself if you’ve provided all the information he or she will need in a way that’s clear and concise. Reading your writing aloud can also help identify mistakes that could otherwise be missed.
Get a second set of eyes: Never be afraid to ask a coworker or friend to review your text before submitting something. Someone with a fresh perspective might be able to find errors you’ve missed, or point out if a particular point doesn’t make sense.
Additional Resources to Explore
A Florida Tech professor’s take on email etiquette
Grammar Girl, a website and podcast covering grammar and word choice
Grammarly, a free online service that searches text for common grammar errors
How to Improve Your Business Writing, business-focused advice from the Harvard Business Review