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Writing Well: A Key Job Skill in 2013

Posted December 19, 2012 by Barb Mednick in Career Moves
Not surprisingly, one of the key “must-have” job skills for 2013 is clear communications, according to a Nov. 18, 2012 article in the Wall Street Journal. Regardless of your level, communications – particularly written communications — is critical for you to advance in your company or organization.

I recently contacted several HR professionals from local companies regarding the biggest business-writing problems they encounter. One HR director said that she has noticed a steep decline in the writing ability of applicants and new hires, making it increasingly difficult to source individuals that meet their communication standards.

The Importance of Writing Emails

As office conversations increasingly move online, the ability to write well – particularly via email – is more important than ever. That’s because every email you send reflects upon not only your credibility and professionalism, but that of your company or organization.

Email is one of the most challenging forms of communication because all you have is your words, with no ability to clarify tone of voice, gestures, and body language.

Common Email Problems

In the email and business writing classes that I have taught to working professionals during the last several years, the most common email problems cited by students included:
• Lack of conciseness and clarity
• Taking too long to make a point
• Circular writing
• Poor organization
• Too much use of jargon
• Lack of clear instruction if communicating a process
• Email threads that go on and on
• Poor tone

Tips for Writing Effective Emails

1. Respect your reader’s time.

  • “Too much email” is one of the biggest complaints in businesses/organizations today.
  • Respect your reader’s time (and your time) by asking if you really need to send an e-mail.

2. Make sure the topic is appropriate for e-mail and watch your tone.

  • Many topics are too confidential or sensitive to write in an email.
  • Carelessly written email can convey an abrupt, offensive tone.
  • Some good questions to ask yourself when writing an email include:
    • If I were face-to-face with this person, would I say this, and in this way?
    • What if my recipient forwards this e-mail to other people?
  • If it is confidential or sensitive information, consider using the phone or snail mail.

3. Plan what you write.

  • While email may be quick and easy, it’s also a written form of communication that requires the same attention as a letter or report.
  • Before you start typing, take a few moments to consider why you are writing, what information your reader needs, and what you want your reader to do.

4. Avoid long sentences.

  • Try to keep your sentences to a maximum of 15-20 words.

5. Make your subject line informative and compelling, like a news headline.

6. Use language that communicates clearly.


About the Author

Barb Mednick

Barbara K. Mednick is Associate Director of Corporate Communications for KPMG LLP in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a passion for workforce issues/trends, particularly as they relate to women. Previously she ran a successful, Twin Cities-based PR and marketing communications consultancy and held senior account management positions at several top Twin Cities PR and marketing agencies. Barbara began her career as a journalist at a daily newspaper and holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and a Mini-MBA Certificate from the University of St. Thomas. During her career, Barbara has written numerous articles and posts for various print and online media. She has garnered a number of industry awards for writing and successful PR and marketing communications campaigns conducted for clients. Also, she has taught a number of writing workshops for professionals and she blogs on the intersection of PR, marketing communications, and social media at http://bkminsights.blogspot.