What is the value of good writing skills today? I recently posed this question to a number of executives, consultants and business leaders from various disciplines. All of them said that writing is even more important than in previous years. Professionals spend more time each day writing and are inundated with e-mails, reports and memos, so it is imperative that employees write succinctly and well. Writing skills can differentiate job candidates from one another. Many hiring managers figure that if a person demonstrates poor writing skills when highly motivated to apply for a job, those skills probably won't be any better once on the job. Here are some things to consider when you sit down to write:
• Think about your audience (business colleagues, friends, etc.) and the appropriate format (e-mail vs. report vs. letter).
• Make it reader-friendly with section headings, paragraph subheadings, graphs, charts and bullet points.
• Proofread your work or get someone else to review it for accuracy, clarity, spelling, punctuation and grammar.
• Be clear. Don't rely on technical jargon or acronyms.
• Be concise. It is often important that you be able to write a one-page executive report as well as other short reports.
• Be professional, especially in e-mails. Anything you send can be copied or forwarded to others. Employers often comment that a person's written message reflects his/her personal image and degree of professionalism.
• Be comfortable with revisions. Don't expect that your first draft will be the final product. Great writers often spend many hours revising and improving their work.
• Practice and get feedback on your writing.
• Take classes to improve. An Internet search quickly reveals numerous in-person and online options to improve technical writing and creative writing.
• Read your writing aloud to uncover mistakes.
• Cite references where appropriate. Make sure you do not plagiarize by taking others' work without crediting it.
Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.