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Main Content

Strengthening Your Written Communication Ability

When you're good at written communication, you know how to express your ideas and proposals to others clearly and persuasively through the written word.

One example: You're working with a team on an important cross-functional initiative for your company. The team has developed a plan for tackling the project. But suddenly you conceive of a different way of handling the project that you believe has important advantages over the original plan. You want to pitch your idea to the team leader, but she's attending a conference overseas and can only be contacted through email. You compose an email explaining your idea to her, pointing out the benefits (such as quicker completion of the project and a higher-quality outcome) that would result if the group uses your idea. Convinced of the merits of your proposal, the team leader agrees to ditch the old project plan in favor of yours.

When you strengthen your written communication ability, you generate valuable results. You're able to convey important information to others, influence others to consider good ideas that may otherwise have been ignored, and inspire people to take needed action. Effective written communication thus constitutes a powerful tool for making things happen.

How to enhance this ability? The following practices can help:

  • Read a book on business communication. Potential useful titles include Effective Business Writing: A Guide for Those Who Write on the Job, 2nd Edition, by Maryann V. Piotrowski, The Elements of Business Writing: A Guide to Writing Clear, Concise Letters, Memos, Reports, and Other Business Documents by Gary Blake and Robert W. Bly, and Business Grammar, Style and Usage: The Most Used Desk Reference for Articulate and Polished Business Writing and Speaking by Executives Worldwide by Alicia Abell.

  • Take an online learning course. Examples include the "Writing for Business" module in the Harvard ManageMentor series, developed by Harvard Business School Publishing, as well as the "Presenting Your Ideas" and "Brilliant Business Writing and Communication" course offered by JER Group, Inc. Your company may have purchased a site license for such courses, or you may be able to buy a CD containing courses of interest as well as download them from the developer for a fee.
  • Consult an expert. Find someone who you view as a particularly talented writer. Ask this person how he or she has strengthened this skill.
  • Attend a workshop or course in written business communication. Your company may offer such learning opportunities or may be willing to reimburse your tuition if you take such a course through another organization. Local university extension programs, as well as continuing education programs, may offer such workshops and courses.
  • Get feedback. Whenever you create a written business communication — whether it's an important email, letter, memo, executive summary, or specifications sheet — ask someone to look it over and give you feedback. With the benefit of this fresh pair of eyes, you'll spot flaws in your draft that you didn't see before, and you'll learn something new about business writing.
  • Get some distance from your writing. After drafting a business communication, set it aside for a while — ideally overnight — and then look at it again. Getting some distance from the draft can help you evaluate it from a fresh perspective and catch problems that you might not have seen when you were immersed in writing it.
  • Treat everything you write as a first draft. By shutting off your internal editor as you're composing, you'll be better able to focus on getting your ideas on paper. Later, you can make needed revisions and fix any errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and style.
  • Study exemplars of effective written communication. Examine reports, business letters, and other written communication that you consider particularly effective. Notice how these pieces are structured, and take stock of the author's writing style, sentence structure, word choice, and pacing. Identify the elements that make these pieces especially good. Practice using the same techniques in your own writing.
  • Write, write, write. As with many other abilities, the more you write and receive feedback on your work, the stronger your skill will become. Seek opportunities to practice this ability — for example, by volunteering to draft a status report for your team's project or by offering to draft a section of a friend's business plan.

Strengthening your written communication ability takes practice and patience. But the results are well worth the effort. The better a written communicator you are, the more you can convey your ideas and important information to others — a vital process in the world of business.