Writing at work can expand your influence, shape your reputation, and literally make your career. Yet few people do it often enough or well enough. Here’s how you can distinguish yourself.
Why write? This quote succinctly describes why writing is important for work:
“As soon as you move one step up from the bottom, your effectiveness depends on your ability to reach others through the written or spoken word. And the further away your job is from manual work, the larger the organization of which you are an employee, the more important it will be that you know how to convey your thoughts in writing or speaking. In the very large organization, whether it is the government, the large business corporation, or the Army, this ability to express oneself is perhaps the most important of all the skills a man or woman can possess.”
This isn’t from a modern communications expert or blogger. It’s from Peter Drucker. And it’s from 1952.
Drucker saw that organizational effectiveness increasingly depends on finding, sharing, and building on the best ideas. And for that to happen, those ideas have to be discoverable - that is, written down. Now, more than in Drucker’s day, it’s easier to publish your work and make an audience aware of it.
And while writing helps your firm, it also helps you. By publishing your ideas and opinions, you shape your reputation - who you are, what you do, and how well you do it. And that greater visibility helps unlock opportunities that would never be open to you otherwise.
2 resources to help you
Of all the books on writing non-fiction, two in particular stand out for their usefulness and accessibility.
“On Writing Well”, by William Zinsser, is an extremely valuable guide. It helps you write with “clarity and strength” but also with “humanity and warmth.”
Filled with anecdotes and examples, Zinsser will convince you to abandon the dry, technical, professional style you may have been taught. Instead, he'll help you develop a more personal style that people will enjoy more. And he'll show you ways to make even the most mundane topics come alive for your audience.
“Letting Go of the Words”, by Ginny Redish addresses the challenges of “writing web content that works.”
Increasingly, most writing at work is read on-line. In numerous experiments that scanned people's eyes while they read, it's clear that people read quite differently on-line than in print. On-line, they typically scan the screen in quick, predictable ways, looking for interesting content. That makes titles and headings even more important. And long, dense prose, for example, simply isn’t effective.
These are two books that everyone at work should read.
The best writing tip
Beyond the guidance you’ll find in books, the key to writing is actually doing more of it. And the best method I’ve found to start writing more is to get a friend to help you. Someone to read and critique your first few posts. To ensure you carve out writing time on your calendar. To drag you and your laptop to the cafe, if necessary, and sit next to you while you write.
Writing regularly and often is perhaps the most consistent advice you’ll get. People as different as Seth Godin, Tom Peters, and Fred Wilson all stress the importance of writing regularly. (Wilson, NYC’s most notable venture capitalist, started blogging at age 42 and has been writing daily ever since - over 5000 posts. He's gradually built an audience of over 100,000 people and says "the investment I've made in my communication skills over the past eight years is paying huge dividends for me now.”)
But so many people simply can’t get started. Or they stop when they’re unhappy with the results.
So find a friend to help you get through the early difficulties that everyone faces when they start to write. And start learning to write often as you also aspire to write well.
“It is a timeless and powerful skill,” says Tom Peters.
For both you and for your firm, it’s a skill worth developing.