3 Reasons You Need to Improve Your Writing
In my work helping clients use strategic messaging to drive growth, I do a lot of editing. My clients are CEOs, small-business owners and leaders who write all the time. They're good at what they do.
But, time and time again, I catch things in their work. Once we make small changes, it gets 10 times better.
I'm not talking about proofreading for typos. That's important, for sure. But, I'm talking about something even more critical: the persuasiveness of your copy and your ability to get the outcome you're looking for.
As a changemaker and entrepreneur, your work probably involves writing as a way to inform, persuade or connect with your audience. Especially if you have a lean team, you're doing a lot of writing yourself. You might write for your website, newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, keynote decks and sales pitches. And if you're technical, you're still writing Slack DMs, texts and plenty of work emails. All of these forms of writing require skill to get your message across.
Unfortunately, beyond the basics of grammar and punctuation, as professionals we're not taught the nuances of how to be persuasive with our words.
My private coaching clients have a direct line to me in situations when framing a message can really move the needle. We edit and polish, remove the anxiety about what to say (and how to say it), and get it shipped.
But, not everyone has someone they can turn to for high-stakes messaging. I've said before that you should be your own mentor. I think you should be your own editor, too.
Here's why it's worth your time to learn how to edit your own writing.
1. It's not "just" writing. It's how you advance yourself and sell your ideas.
Have you ever done a group project? Then you know the person who presents gets all the credit. It's incredibly frustrating and unfair, but it's true. The teacher and class can't help but associate the speaker with the one who must have led the project.
If you don't know the game being played, it's hard to win the game.
The same is true for knowing how you're being perceived. Every interaction represents who you are. Every piece of writing -- an internal memo to your team, website copy, tweets -- can either reinforce your personal brand or erode it.
Think about it this way: A single email can change the trajectory of your business. Most cold emails are ignored because they are self-centered. But, what if you could write cold emails that get a reply? It could be the start to getting funding, or a partnership deal with a marquee client. Good writing opens doors.
When you write, consider nuances like:
- Positive or negative connotations
- Power dynamics
- Calls to action
- Hinting vs being direct
- Length as a strategy
- Appealing to worldviews and ego
- Cognitive dissonance
These are all tools available to you. They have nothing to do with the quality of your ideas, but a huge impact on how your ideas (and you) are perceived.
2. It’s a skill you’ll use with high frequency and high magnitude.
“Persuasion” isn't only done with a capital P in a board room. Persuasion happens in small instances every day. For example:
- Seeking alignment with someone over Slack: "Should I walk over and talk to them? How can I say this over DM? Can I tell them to hold off without sounding like a jerk?”
- Giving feedback: “The work wasn’t great. How do I tell them I need to see high quality output?”
- Advocating for your ideas: “I really think we should do this. How can I bring it up so my boss will be amicable to my idea?”
- Navigating your personal life: “My friend is asking if I’m cool with this plan, and I’m not. How do I write a text that sounds positive -- but makes him realize he's being unreasonable?”
- Crafting important emails: "I can't believe I've spent five hours on this email ... "
Every piece of writing is an opportunity to sell: to sell your credibility, to sell why your direct report should be excited about a task, to sell why a coworker should help you. You should invest in learning how to accurately express yourself and get the reaction you're hoping for.
That's really your one job anyway: to inspire others. Writing is an opportunity to do that. And I don't just mean blogging or writing for publications. I mean writing in your daily life to coworkers, customers and partners. That's the writing that has the most potential for upside when you improve.
3. You'll be more self-reliant.
If you want higher-impact hours in your day, this is it. The faster you edit your own work, the faster you can get important notes out the door. You'll reduce the likelihood of miscommunication, hurt feelings and confusion. You'll be clear on what you want your recipient to do (the outcome) once they receive your memo.
Similar to why you should be your own mentor, sometimes you don't have a colleague who can help take a look at your email before you hit "send" or "publish." When you self-edit, you'll reduce the cycles of back-and-forth editing. Even if you do ask a friend to take a look, it'll be much tighter to begin with. His or her feedback will only make it stronger.
If you're asked to be a second pair of eyes, your feedback will be more useful if you're operating from shared expectations, strategies, concepts, etc. You'll be able to point out nuances in the message that others can't see. So, it's useful for all parties to know the basics of how to craft a strong message for work and life.
Most of us write daily, but just because everyone writes, doesn't mean we do it well. Almost all of us could benefit from getting better at it, especially if you run your own business. After all, today's battles are fought and won (or lost) with words.