Seven Easy Ways to Improve Your Writing--and Gain a Competitive Edge at Work

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Writing is one of the most accessible--and overlooked--tools for getting a job, keeping a job, and earning a promotion or two. Seven easy tips help anyone write better today.

Powerful writing skills can help you get a job, keep a job, or land a promotion.

Words @ Work: __title__ Words @ Work] Powerful business writing delivers increased sales, improved results, and even a promotion or two

Today's competitive job market means applicants are working overtime writing their résumés and cover letters; once they get an interview, some candidates are required to take writing tests. And workers who survived downsizing? Many face increased writing tasks--without the confidence or skills to do a good job.

Today, the lack of good writing skills affects businesses of all sizes. Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Richard Anderson stated in an April 26th New York Times interview that he'd like to see more people using cogent, complete sentences--beyond PowerPoint and a bunch of bulleted words.

"More and more, the ability to speak well and write is important…writing is not something that is taught as strongly as it should be in the educational curriculum," Anderson said. "…People really have to be able to handle the written and spoken word."

According to Lynda McDaniel, director of the Association for Creative Business Writing, writers in the workplace can take some easy steps to improve their writing immediately.

"In today's economy, people need to set themselves apart from the pack. Good writing is one of the best and easiest ways to achieve that," she says. "They may not have the time or resources to go back to school, but everyone can start writing better today."

Better than school
McDaniel's latest book, "Words @ Work: Powerful business writing delivers increased sales, improved results, and even a promotion or two," helps fill the gaps between what we learned in school--or didn't learn--and what we need on the job. She often hears her students say, "They sure don't teach this in school!" when they learn tools and techniques, such as:

Seven Easy Ways to Start Writing Better Today!

1. Let it rip.
Brainstorm with yourself. Jot down everything you can think of about the topic: your audience, what they need, what you can offer them, what's in it for them, etc. Then organize those thoughts into a rough outline, most important information first, and so on.

2. Write first drafts fast.
Now start writing--fast. This is a great way to overcome the fear of writing. Just do it. Don't worry about typos and verb tenses--yet. Besides, if you edit as you go, you slow yourself down and even block some creative thinking.

3. Cut, catch, and correct.
Now spend the time you saved in Step #2 to edit several times. With each run-through, you'll spot more writing mistakes. Good writing is really good editing.

4. To be or not to be?
Change 50 percent of your to-be verbs (is, are, were) to vivid verbs. It wakes up your writing--and your readers. "The deadline looms" grabs more attention than "The deadline is today."

5. Break it up.
Use headlines, subheads, white spaces, bullets, and numbers to break up your writing. This works especially well in e-mail. If it looks too dense or boring, people just delete it.

6. Write to your readers.
Speaking of readers, be sure to write to them, not at them. Instead of dumping information on them, craft your message so it solves a problem, offers advantages, or explains how they'll be better off.

7. Sleep on it.
Rest and let your writing rest. Then edit and proof again with fresh insights. If you can't wait that long, at least take a break--grab lunch, sip coffee, or walk around the block. Then print it out and proof again. (For some reason we catch more goofs and gaffs in hard copy.)

Step by step
Each chapter in Words @ Work starts with a short essay from McDaniel's life that illustrates a key issue about the writing process. (Her clients kept telling her how much her career inspired them.) The rest of the chapter features detailed explanations and examples on that issue. Topics include: Listen to your gut, write for your readers, overcome your fear of writing, copy great writers, tap into your creativity, tell stories, and most importantly, trust yourself.

Confidence works wonders
"I regularly see people beat themselves up about their writing. But that's not going to get them a new job or dig us out of this economic downturn," McDaniel adds. "More than anything, people need the confidence to trust themselves. In my coaching practice, I give out large doses of encouragement, and right away I see a big difference. I wrote Words @ Work so more people could experience the same hope and inspiration."


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