The Lost Art of the Written Word

Advances in technology have resulted in an increase in written communication. The simple act of walking down the hall or picking up the phone to connect with colleagues has largely been replaced with a flurry of emails, instant messages, and even text messages. Recent reports list email as the most prolific form of business-related communication with users sending/receiving 121 emails per day on average. Yet, more writing doesn’t seem to have resulted in better writing. In an age where “instant” is key, many responses come fast and furious with little time to check on proper grammar, punctuation, or spelling. TXT-speak has even begun to invade professional emails, perhaps brought on by Millennials in the workplace or, perhaps, the incredible popularity of Twitter which requires key messages in 140 characters or less.

Being able to write effectively remains a key skill in business, life, and learning. Poorly written emails, reports, funding applications/proposals, blogs, LinkedIn profiles, web pages, and countless other examples detract from your professional identity and can have huge costs for you and your organization. Funding applications with writing errors, for example, can demonstrate a lack of attention to detail or leave funders with the impression the application just wasn’t important enough; the end result is often no funding. For job seekers, errors in emails, cover letters, and resumes can move the most qualified candidate into the “don’t bother” pile; in one report, well over 50% of employers stated they automatically dismiss candidates with even one typo in work-search documents. For students, poorly written assignments can result in lower grades which, in turn, can result in loss of scholarships, academic probation, and even expulsion.

Effective writing should be concise and consistent, with a clear purpose and a strong voice. As you begin writing projects, know your audience and understand the parameters (e.g., word limits, style guide). Give yourself time to research and write content; remember that editing and proofreading is a different part of the writing process (i.e., write first, edit later). If you aren’t working from an existing style guide (e.g., APA, Chicago, MLA), consider creating your own to help ensure consistency (e.g., email or e-mail, BC or B.C., comma before “and” or “or” in a series, or not). For more, check out our 10 Tips for Writing Professional Documents.

From a short Tweet or quick email to a lengthy report, ensure you’ve taken the time to properly proofread. Do not rely solely on spell check which won’t draw your attention to correctly spelled words that are actually wrong within the context; there are countless examples of these on the Internet. Check out a recent Top 10 list at http://www.hotdocs.com/blog/top-ten-funniest-proofreading-mistakes. When in doubt, read out loud or get a second set of eyes; for more tips see our 10 Tips for Editing Professional Documents.

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