The other night I was sitting in bed editing my daughter’s AP History paper. This was the first assigned paper and her teacher had emphasized that he would be unforgiving of poorly written papers, that spelling and grammar mistakes wouldn’t be tolerated.
My husband glanced over at the 12 point Times New Roman double-spaced under 3 pages with 1″ margins sheets that I’d covered in blue ink. “Nobody has to write like that any more,” he stated.
Could he possibly be right?
In the current environment of PowerPoint and one pagers and email and Twitter, are superior writing skills necessary?
Arguably, we live in a time of “less is more.” If the email doesn’t cut to the chase it won’t be read. Sometimes a presenter never gets beyond the Executive Summary slide. Social media platforms encourage brevity.
But the reality is that business writing cannot be clear, concise, and impactful if the full idea isn’t first articulated.
Have you ever written an email and then realized from your recipient’s response that the meaning was totally misconstrued? Have you ever picked up a piece of collateral that you wrote and not understood exactly what you were trying to say?
A survey of HR professionals conducted by the National Commission on Writing (view the full report here, it’s very interesting) found that “remedying deficiencies in writing may cost Americans firms as much as $3.1 billion annually.” Additionally, half of the companies surveyed “take writing into account when making promotion decisions.”
And while today you may be producing primarily PowerPoint slides with no more than 4 bullets of 6 words each per slide, next year you may be writing performance appraisals or white papers.
If you don’t practice writing— complete sentences and well formed paragraphs—your writing becomes stale. Your vocabulary becomes limited, you begin to use jargon, you are unable to support a position.
How can you practice your writing skills, especially if your day job doesn’t demand it?
Take a class. If you work for a largish organization, undoubtedly your company “university” offers a business writing course. Don’t think that as a marketing person it is beneath you! If company resources aren’t available to you, take a class at your local community college or university continuing education (which will typically offer classes at night and on weekends) or even online.
Write blog posts. You don’t need to commit to the responsibility of publishing your own public blog. Look for opportunities to guest post or write for a company internal blog.
Write letters. Yes, personal letters. Of course even your mother has email now, but writing a pen-and-paper letter forces you to abandon shorthand, use complete sentences, and fully articulate your thoughts. And you’ll make your mother’s day!
Read good writing and read about good writing. Learn from how others express themselves. Learn from bad examples and good. A few of my favorite resources here:
- http://blogs.hbr.org/silverman/2009/02/why-is-business-writing-so-bad.html and other things in the Business Writing category on Harvard Business Review
- http://www.chrisbrogan.com/cultivating-a-writing-habit/ and pretty much anything on Chris Brogan’s blog
- everything on the Write to Done blog
As a product marketing professional, your primary responsibility is communication – communicating benefits, communicating strategy, communicating success. Are you setting the gold standard?