These Two Small Things Can Make a Huge Difference in Your Writing


People usually don’t expect to do things perfectly the first time. That’s why we invest in lessons for everything from violin to dance to cake-decorating to golf. We know we have to practice, whether that means going to the batting cage three times a week or rehearsing a sales presentation over and over.

Writing is no different. It is a skill that can be mastered with practice.

If you struggle with writing, this bit of wisdom should encourage you. Writing is not some mysterious talent that a few chosen individuals have. You can learn to do it, but you do have to practice. If you practice enough, you might actually enjoy it! But even if you don't grow to love it, you will improve (it's only logical and research does support this).

Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 and dozens of other books, once declared, “Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you're doomed.”

In addition to practice, planning your writing is essential. Planning may seem like an extra step in the process, but it can actually save you time, if you do these two important things: 
  1. Take the time to flesh out what you know about your readers. In other words, simply saying, "This is for my boss," isn't helpful. What do you know about your boss in terms of reading behaviors? How busy is she? What distractions is she dealing with when reading your document? Is she skeptical, biased, or intolerant? Taking a few extra minutes to figure this out can pay huge dividends. And we suggest to our clients that they create a reader rubric, which is a checklist that lists reader attributes. When you write a document that meets your readers' needs, wonderful things happen: you get less negative feedback, your readers are happier (which helps you accomplish your goals), and your readers are more likely to take the action you require. 
  2. This is a statement, or writing guideline, that indicates what you hope to accomplish via the document, what action you want the reader to take, and/or the objectives of the document. It's not something that will wind up in the document necessarily, so you should write it in a way that makes sense to you. This takes a few extra minutes to do, but can help you stay on track and therefore spend less time revising. As the writer, the outcome statement saves me time in the writing process because I don't include a lot of unnecessary information in the document. 
Whether you’re writing a formal document or an email to a colleague or client, take the time to plan the document by creating a reader rubric and writing an outcome statement. In addition, remember that making writing a habit by incorporating it into your every day worklife will make writing easier and help you hone those important communication skills. As we’ve suggested, practice makes perfect!