Much of what used to be oral phone conversation is now written. This has increased the pressure on everyone within an organization to write well, from customer service representatives using email to communicate with customers to marketing executives developing content for printed materials and the company website. Bad writing calls attention to itself, causing the reader to miss the point of the communication. It also conveys an unflattering picture of the individual and by extension, the business.
Why is it so hard to write well? Because writing requires a coordinated effort involving:
- Memory to correctly apply the rules of spelling, capitalization and punctuation
- Language ability – grammar,vocabulary, word order and sentence structure
- Higher-order cognitive skills – planning, organizing, reasoning, logic, abstract thinking.
The effectiveness of any written communication, from the most sophisticated marketing piece to an email, will be compromised if it has errors in the mechanics – spelling, punctuation, capitalization. Some readers may even form an opinion about the writer or the business (sloppy, doesn’t care, unprofessional) based on these errors. So the first way to become a better writer is to spell words correctly and to follow commonly-accepted rules for punctuation and capitalization.
SpellingA spell checker is a useful tool for finding misspelled words, typos and oversights. But it will not find a word that is spelled correctly yet used incorrectly. The English language is filled with word pairs that sound alike but have different meanings – like its and it’s or who’s
PunctuationPunctuation has two functions: to convey intended meaning, and to provide tone and nuance. For example:
- A period shows that a thought has been completed.
- A semicolon indicates that two thoughts are closely related.
- A colon indicates that an explanation of a previous thought is coming.
- A comma signals a pause and keeps thoughts from becoming confusing.
- Don’t stop vs. Don’t. Stop.
- Let’s eat, Grandma vs. Let’s eat Grandma.
- A woman without her man is nothing. vs. A woman: without her, man is nothing.
CapitalizationCapitalization makes reading easier by indicating the beginning of a sentence, and separates proper nouns from other words. Without capitalization, sentences can run together, making reading slower and more difficult. It is customary to capitalize:
- the first word of a sentence
- proper nouns and the adjectives derived from them (Alaskan from Alaska)
- the major words in a headline or title
- personal titles when combined with a person’s name (Mrs. Patterson, Dr. Adams)
- letters in an acronym (NASA)
Language, Grammar and VocabularyGrammar is the set of rules governing the way the sentences of a language are constructed. Closely related is syntax, the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences. Regardless of the type of writing – a sales letter, a blog post or an email – the rules of grammar and syntax apply. Here is a brief review:
- Parts of speech are the building blocks of grammar. Each has a specific function in a sentence. The eight parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, articles, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunction and interjections. (Remember your grade-school English?)
- Sentences are composed of three parts: a noun, a verb, and a complement (such as a direct or indirect object).
- Sentence types may be simple, compound or complex.
Effective writing requires an understanding of the audience, knowledge of the subject, and the ability to bring the two together in a clear, concise and organized manner. Good writing begins with a purpose – a thesis or argument – that the writer explains, supports and logically develops using good language skills.
Clarity in writing means choosing specific, descriptive words to convey meaning and activity. Using action verbs instead of forms of to be, active instead of passive voice, and avoiding unclear pronoun references contributes to clarity.
Concise writing avoids wordy phrases when a single word can convey the same meaning (such as using allow, give or let in place of provide an opportunity to). Concise writing uses shorter, simpler words like so instead of accordingly, and eliminates redundancy such as using the word concluded for arrived at the conclusion.
Good writing follows an organizational structure:
- An introductory paragraph that summarizes the purpose
- Supporting paragraphs that support the purpose
- A concluding paragraph that provides a summary, draws a conclusion, makes a prediction or does a combination of these.
Finally, good writing is elegant. The writing flows gracefully in a smooth rhythm and pace. The thoughts are coherent and logically developed with appropriate emphasis and style.
Writing is an essential business skill
We do quite a bit of writing at Creative Characters. If you need help conveying your message effectively, we can help. Contact Brigid today at (215) 923-2679 or email@example.com for more information.