Many of us struggle to write efficiently and manage our daily writing tasks. Never mind the pains we go to in our cover letters and resumes to point out our excellent writing skills. The truth is our writing often doesn’t reflect us well, which begs the question, why? Given all our education, why do so many of us have a hard time communicating clearly in our emails, reports, and proposals?
The answer is that you’ve learned academic writing not business writing. The focus on academic writing—at least at the high school, college, and undergraduate level—is on impressing someone who knows a lot about something that you know a little—and you’d like a good mark. School assignments are written to fulfill a predetermined word count. Don’t worry if you have only have 12 pages of meaningful content and the prof asked for 15. You can pad the rest! Finally, and this is important, the teacher has no choice but to keep reading. Your audience is a captive one: no matter how unhappy the reader, you do get read.
Now you find ourselves writing in the business world where clear and concise rule the day. You still write to get what you want, but it’s no longer about the A. It’s about informing your clients about some new services; about selling a great technical concept to a potential investor; about highlighting project goals to management. And you are no longer writing to someone who definitely knows your subject. In fact, the roles might now be reversed: you could be the subject matter expert, not your audience.
And there’s no longer a need to meet a page count; when you’re done, you can stop. Knowing when to stop is a good thing because many of your readers are not compelled to keep reading—and they won’t. Many a report gets written that doesn’t get read. What a waste of money, time, and energy!
The skills you learned at school aren’t much help in the business world. Unless you had a teacher versed in the art of clean, tight prose, you probably didn’t learn the business writing skills need to succeed. Academic writing is a different genre from business writing. It’s as if you spent 15 years learning how to write good science fiction, and now you make your living writing poetry.
So who is going to come to your rescue at work? Is there going to be a colleague or a manager who has the time and expertise to help you become a proficient business writer? If you are very lucky, yes. But usually there is no one; in fact, you could actually become a worse writer because your boss insists on an old-fashioned style or doesn’t value a direct and friendly reader-centred approach.
Writing is a demanding craft, and there’s no magic formula for great writing. The good news is that everyone can improve. Build up your resources, and take classes to improve your writing skills. Becoming a confident business writer takes patience and persistence, but it’s one of the best investments you can make.