It is impossible to overstate how much we rely on written words to get what we want. Are you making your writing as powerful as possible?
By improving your writing, you will change the arc of your career. You can literally double or triple your salary, because effective leaders get paid much more than “muddled thinkers.”
Your first reaction may be to doubt my salary claim, but let’s start with your resume. A well-written one can be the difference between a big job and a dead-end one. Now consider what you do for a living… effective writing can make a huge difference. For example, a researcher who can write effectively might get five or even ten times as many grants over the course of her career.
If you are an up-and-coming leader, the ability to use words to motivate others can easily double your rate of advancement. We all know people who are obviously intelligent, but just can’t seem to consistently offer a series of actionable recommendations. Such people aren’t worth nearly as much as their colleagues who communicate with clarity.
Print out this “business writing cheat sheet” and use it whenever you have to create a powerful document… even if it is just a short email:
1.) Have a repeatable message. Most of the stuff you read has no clear message, which makes it nearly impossible to repeat. In our digital age, being easily repeated is the difference between fame and forgotten.
To give you one example, search engines put clear and focused pieces much higher than random and rambling ones; this fact impacts all business writing, even pieces that will never be posted online.
Creating repeatable messages is one thing it takes to deliver on the premise of my headline. In most companies, it takes more than one person’s agreement to double your salary. The people who control your fate must be able to easily grasp both your messages as well as the value you add.
Ask yourself: why am I writing this piece? What do I want the reader to learn? Even more importantly, what do I want the reader to do after reading what I wrote?
2.) Know your audience. If you write everything in the same style, you are – sorry – an ineffective writer. You must adapt your style and approach to match the needs of the people you wish to influence.
The odds are that your boss doesn’t think like your subordinates, or your friends. The people in Accounting don’t think like the people in Marketing.
Some of us like facts and figures, others crave stories.To get a message into someone’s brain, you have to package it in a form they can process. For some people, that means using 100 words or less; for others, it means including three pages of support materials.
Ask yourself: who is going to read this, and how do they think? To get a clue, re-read anything they have sent to you.
3.) Be powerful, not passive. Powerful professionals DO things; they don’t sit passively while others take action. But huge numbers of professionals write in the passive tense, like this:
After careful consideration, our department’s new operating policy was approved this morning by the management team.
What a lousy way to try to get others excited. Far better to write:
We just created five simple principles to make daily life in our department easier and simpler.
Whenever you write, show people how and why to take action. Demonstrate that you are doing the same. Empower others. Get them moving ahead.
4.) Use examples. Without examples, your words are little more than abstract thoughts, and most people ignore abstract thoughts. There are good reasons for this; we all have daily pressures, and if you don’t know how to implement an idea, it isn’t useful to you.
Examples show readers how to implement your ideas.
If you are suggesting that your boss approve a new expense, tell him or her why the expense is such a good investment and give examples of how it will support your group’s goals.
Every year in my town, the Board of Education fights for more money from the Board of Finance. And every year, concerned parents stand up and give heartfelt examples of how children will be hurt if the school budget is cut. Such stories don’t always work, but without them our school budget would be much smaller than it is today.
5.) Use more pictures and fewer words. There’s a reason why nearly every LinkedIn article starts with an image; more people read articles with images.
The same is true for nearly every document. Some people think in pictures, others in words. If you fail to include pictures, you will fail to reach some people. Plus, you can use images to draw attention to your key points.
Just as importantly, don’t waste words. In fact, you might want to write “don’t waste words” right above the screen on all your digital devices. I’m serious. Only use as many words as is necessary to get your point across clearly, and no more.
Bonus tip… write at least three drafts! People hate this tip, but the hard reality is that you need to rewrite your first draft, and to keep rewriting until you’ve accomplished all five of these tips.
I write at least three drafts of everything, even emails. When I violate this principle, I regret it. By regret, I mean: years ago, not rewriting cost me a raise, it cost me more than one client, and it cost me some friends.
Rewriting doesn’t require hours of time. You can rewrite a short email in two minutes. Don’t skip this step! The more you polish your words, the higher your career will soar.