McKinsey Global Institute and International Data Corp. released a study that revealed more than a quarter of the average worker’s day is spent reading and answering emails. When you factor in reports, proposals, blog posts, texts, tweets, and any of the many other ways the written words reigns supreme in your day-to-day routine, the number is likely to climb even higher. It is clear that this simple statistic is illustrative of a much larger reality – no matter who you are or what you do, writing is likely a huge part of your life.
Therefore, since everyone is likely to spend such an enormous fraction of their time writing, it is important to ensure you write effectively and directly. It is best to be the kind of writer whose words create action and get results. Here are some tips to improve your ability to do just that.
Be Able to Answer “Why?”
Every piece of writing should have an evident purpose. Before you write anything down, as yourself why you are writing in the first place. What is the desired outcome you want to achieve with these words? Whether you are attempting to persuade a superior about altering the budget or simply trying to cheer up an old friend, how you write needs to entirely reflect why you are writing. Writing that tries to cover too many topics is likely to lose the reader and be ineffective at achieving anything. Choose and commit to one obvious, solid intention.
Brevity is king, especially in business. When you are in the office, chances are that nobody has the time to enjoy a beautifully written but long-winded message. Outside of work, social media has transformed the way many people consume information. The reader who prefers extended and in-depth over direct and to-the-point is hard to find. Short and straightforward (often 140 characters or less) is the new normal.
Bring it Back to Basics
Your writing should be able to convey your message to any audience with no room for misunderstanding. Imagine your audience is a room full of children, who have notoriously short attention spans. Use these guiding questions to make sure that you bypass jargon and get your information across as simply as possible:
- The reason I am writing is:
- What I want you to know is:
- What I want you to do is:
Avoid confusion by keeping your writing style bareboned. Additionally, closing strong with explicit phrasing like, “All I need from you right now” eliminates any possible ambiguity in terms of next steps. Great, effective writing can hit each of those points in a way that even a first-grader could easily understand.
Set the Timer
For the majority of people, the longer you obsess over a bit of writing, the worse it becomes. So long as you have a clear purpose for writing, the first draft is often the best. Spending too much time messing with the minutiae of an email, for instance, can cut deeply into your productivity.
Read it Aloud
As soon as you have completed your writing, take a step back and read it out loud. This is a great way to catch small typos as you skim over your work, but also to really feel the impact (or lack thereof) in your words. Do you need to pause mid-sentence to catch your breath? That phrase may be excessively long. A similar trick is to lightly tap a finger on your desk or thigh as your read silently in your head – it may sound bizarre, but it works nearly as well as reading out loud.