“I have never let schooling interfere with my education,” said Mark Twain. It’s a sentiment we certainly agree with here at the Academy. What we’re taught in school is meant to serve limited aims, like developing basic skills and passing assessments. Sadly, once we get out into the real world, a lot of what we’ve learnt at school is simply not that useful!
This is very evident when it comes to writing skills, and many people struggle to communicate effectively as a direct result of the lessons learnt at school. Memorising big words and how to correctly punctuate a clause won’t help you to write a good business email or proposal. In fact, these lessons can actually get in the way of effective communication.
To improve your workplace communication, you’ll have to unlearn some outdated rules and pick up some new ones.
1. Get to the point
Your teachers probably told you that all writing must have an introduction, body and conclusion. This might apply to an exam essay where you’re expected to thoroughly explain your reasoning, but it doesn’t make sense in everyday business writing.
In the workplace, people don’t have the time and attention to read through long paragraphs before reaching the conclusion. And they’re probably not interested in all the supporting details and underlying research.
Cut to the chase and make sure the most important message comes first. Leave out any background information that your reader already knows. For example, if you’re working on a project and you want an update on a deliverable, just ask. Don’t preface your message with a bunch of details about the project’s progress that are not directly relevant to your request.
2. Plain English, please!
Exam graders might be impressed by fancy vocabulary and complex sentences, but your colleagues and business associates won’t be. Formal language and big words get in the way of comprehension and create a disconnect with your reader.
Bear in mind that your readers will probably be skimming your text. If they come across anything unclear, they will ignore it, or worse still, simply move on to the next email. Keep sentences short and opt for commonly used words instead of old-fashioned expressions or technical terms.
3. Less is more
Think you’ve crafted a concise message? Go back and edit some more. You’d be surprised at how many redundant words are still there. Cut phrases like “please don’t hesitate to contact me with queries and concerns”. And “I am writing to inform you”. If you’re doing it right, there shouldn’t be any confusion on this point!
4. Personality is persuasive
Academic writing tends to be devoid of personality. In academia, we try to appear completely logical when arguing a point. The focus in on fact, with little room for flourish.
In life and in work, a bit of flourish goes a long way. We’re emotional and social creatures, and relationships are a vital part of effective communication. You’re more likely to pay attention to a message from someone you like, right? So don’t hold back on expressing yourself and building personal connections with every communication.
One thing we do appreciate from school: cheat sheets! So here’s a handy table summarising what we’ve covered today.
Formal and wordy
Introduction, body, conclusion
Lots of supporting detail
Logical and impartial
Simple yet professional
Straight to the point
Key information only
Personal and emotional
Writing the way you were taught at school can be a hard habit to break. However, break it you must!