Information moves quickly. Tweets, blog posts, photos and more can be shared with millions of people seconds after they are created, and we can monitor global news from our living rooms in real-time. This ease of communication gives everyone the ability to share ideas on the fly through writing, even if at times the quality of that writing is questionable.
To be fair, platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were created to facilitate casual conversation, so it's unrealistic to expect everyone to be at the pinnacle of eloquence when sharing photos from lunch. But when the spur-of-the-moment, unedited writing we are accustomed to on social media seeps into daily operations at a company, the culture shifts to accept last-minute plans, unclear intentions, and jargon as standard operating procedure.
A 2016 survey in the Harvard Business Review found that out of 547 businesspeople, 81% said that poor writing wasted their time. Communications that ramble, lack focus, and don't resolve questions turn conversations that should be two emails into twenty, and when the pattern repeats five, ten, fifteen times, the workday erodes with little accomplished.
In spite of arguments supporting the casualization of society as a whole, the way companies communicate affects their perceived trustworthiness and influence, as well as their internal productivity. As a leader, you set the standard for the way your employees communicate, and your writing should show that you are educated, thoughtful, and precise. Here are a few ways to ensure that your writing is up to par:
Ask any successful novelist to make a list of habits that help to improve their writing; there's a 99% chance that part of that answer includes, "I read."
Just as athletes watch champions of their sport to learn techniques, you must read to learn how to write. And just as an athlete wouldn't watch any random person playing a sport to gain insight, it's important to seek out great writing in order to learn from it.
Sifting through tweets and social media posts from friends and family members probably won't teach you much, but reading a long-form news article from a reputable source or a well-edited nonfiction book will. Reading fiction can also be an asset to leaders and lower-level employees alike, as it boosts creativity and empathy. Make a point to talk to your employees about what they're reading, or start a monthly book club to build camaraderie around reading at your company.
No athlete, musician, actor or speaker improves his or her skills without practice, and writing is no different. Conveniently, business leaders have constant opportunities to write and receive feedback.
Industry articles, blog posts, white papers, and other long-form content are great places to strengthen both your writing and your influence in your field. The more well-known you become for the quality of content that you create, the more potential clients and industry partners will gain interest in you and your brand.
Challenge yourself to write at least one piece of content (at least 700 words) per month. Have a few of your trusted peers read it to provide constructive criticism and ensure that the piece is professional, grammatically correct, and useful for your audience. Share these pieces via your blog, social media, or industry publications.
It's likely been awhile since you've taken a grammar or writing course. It may take a bit of effort to recall how to use a semicolon, but acknowledging what you don't know and setting out to learn it strengthens your skills and your credibility.
An advantage of writing in this age of quick information is that there are plenty of online resources, like the Purdue Online Writing Lab, to help you answer grammar/punctuation questions. If you're dedicated to studying, seek out great books on writing as a craft. If you want feedback on your writing from a professional or are thinking about publishing a book, enlisting the help of a writing coach can be invaluable.
Audiences are inundated with writing that is unedited or unhelpful, so it's more important than ever for leaders to be skilled writers. With a willingness to practice and learn, you'll produce strong content that will engage and grow your audience.