Communication skills are more important than ever, but what if your grammar doesn’t quite make the grade?
Technology has reshaped how we communicate in the business world. Fifty years ago, you would have walked over to your coworker’s desk or called up to the second floor to ask a question. Now, whether your coworkers are in the next cube or half a world away, it’s standard practice to email, instant message, or text. An increasing number of employees are “working with people they have never met and communicating with them largely through email,” Will Ellet, adjunct professor of writing at Brandeis International Business School, told CNBC.
No matter what format your written communication takes, it needs to be clear and concise. Misunderstandings can lead to costly mistakes. Given that the average business user sends and receives over 100 emails a day, no one has time to read rambling messages that don’t get to the point quickly.
We could all use a little refresher on our business writing skills. And thanks to a wealth of free classes and resources online, we can improve our grammar and writing from the comfort of our own desk chairs — without spending a dime.
To get you started, we’ve put together a list of tips for quickly improving your written communication skills. Check ’em out. (And if you’re looking for more, here’s an excellent list of helpful websites and tools that address common grammar questions and errors.)
12 Quick Tips For Better Business Writing
1) Develop a daily writing habit.
Practice makes perfect, so set aside just ten or fifteen minutes each day to free-write. In other words, just get your thoughts down without worrying about proofreading.
2) Try to read every day, too.
In addition to writing each day, a daily reading habit is also a great way to increase your vocabulary and expand your writing repertoire. Pack a novel alongside your lunch or peruse a magazine—even blogs can be a great source of quality writing (if we do say so ourselves).
3) Capitalize when you’re supposed to.
Email subject lines, blog post headlines, and report titles should be capitalized just like book titles.
4) Avoid using exclamation points.
Often, we rely on exclamation points too heavily as a crutch.
“Don’t ask punctuation to do a word’s job,” warns Beth Dunn, chief writer and editor on HubSpot’s product team. “It dilutes your message.” Instead, she suggests working on making our words convey more precisely what you want to say. When in doubt about whether to use an exclamation point, consult this flowchart.
5) Always think about your audience.
You can be casual with your coworkers and peers, but when communicating with management or clients, it’s a good idea to write using more formal grammar. Keep in mind that “formal” doesn’t necessarily mean stilted or old-fashioned.
6) Cut the filler phrases and buzzwords.
Wordy phrases such as “due to the fact that” should be swapped out for their simpler, more straightforward synonyms. (In this case, “because” gets the job done.) Some buzzwords may be trendy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re effective in communicating ideas clearly. Remove them from your business communication unless you’re sure that everyone understands exactly what “synergy” means.
7) Take advantage of free writing courses online.
8) Use templates.
Templates can save you some serious time and effort. If you have to send out similar letters or memos on a regular basis, create a template with customizable fields. You can always personalize your communication with a sentence or two.
Here are 78 free content creation templates for ebooks, press releases, SlideShares, infographics, and more to help you get started.
9) Make sure you address people correctly.
Avoid accidentally insulting someone by triple-checking names, gender, personal pronouns, and titles.
Dustin Wax of Lifehack writes, “If you’re not positive about the spelling of someone’s name, their job title (and what it means), or their gender, either a) check with someone who does know (like their assistant), or b) in the case of gender, use gender-neutral language.”
10) Study commonly misused words and phrases — and never get them wrong.
It is “peek,” “peak,” or “pique”? Which one is correct: “first come, first served” or “first come, first served”? There are a lot of commonly misused words and phrases out there that you should know.
For example, what’s the difference between “that” and “which”? In short, “that” introduces essential information, meaning the stuff that would turn your sentence into nonsense if you took it out. It does not get a comma. On the other hand, “which” introduces non-essential information and is preceded by a comma. (For an in-depth explanation, read this post from Grammar Girl.)
When in doubt, do a quick Google search. It’s worth it.
11) Drop the word “very” from your vocabulary.
Florence King once wrote, “‘Very’ is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out. More than useless, it is treacherous because it invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen.”
You’ll be amazed at the difference removing it makes in your writing.
12) Read your writing out loud.
Before you send anything important, read through it out loud quickly. It may seem a little strange, but reading your writing out loud is one of the most effective ways to catch typos, grammar errors, and awkward phrasing.
These self-paced, self-study tips will help you improve your writing and communication skills in no time.