It can be challenging to stand out from the crowd as someone with the potential for advancement and more responsibility, especially in a large organization. This lack of notice may happen even though you possess all the qualities typically needed for upward mobility and career success: the right degree, significant experience, exceptional talent at your core job, and excellent interpersonal skills. Part of the problem may be that many of your coworkers also have comparable attributes. As a result, the higher-ups just don’t seem to notice you. What can you do?
Consider a proposition I share with students, employees, and others looking to advance their careers:
The writing skills of most people today are generally so poor that, to get noticed, all you have to do is write reasonably well.
Don’t panic! Notice the words “reasonably well.” You do not have to be the Ernest Hemingway or J.K. Rowling of your workplace.
It’s no secret that in today’s world of quick texts, social media, and other incredibly informal communication, professional writing as a skill has suffered. Many schools and colleges have contributed to this unfortunate trend by overlooking poor writing by students and not holding them to even basic standards of acceptability. I have seen job applicants with master’s degrees who could not compose a coherent paragraph. Sadly, I am not alone in this observation. Many colleagues and college professors acknowledge that they also have seen the writing skills of job applicants and incoming classes of students only get worse with each passing year.
The situation has become so bad in the corporate world that, according to an article in Inc. by Kaleigh Moore, many companies have had to resort to remedial writing training for their employees.
Have you noticed? Poor writing seems to show up everywhere.
A look at supposedly professional websites, commercials, and even storefront signage will frequently reveal a plethora of misspellings, incorrect grammar, and other such errors. My all-time favorite goof is the advertisement for an auto repair shop that offers to be “your alternative to honest and trustworthy service.” Uh, wait a minute. Shouldn’t that be your alternative “for” honest and trustworthy service? As stated, the ad actually suggests you take your vehicle to them if you don’t want it serviced by an honest and trustworthy facility!
How many emails do you receive tainted with poor wording or incorrect grammar? How about PowerPoint presentations with obvious errors for all to see on a big screen? At times, you might have even cringed and felt embarrassed for the sender or presenter. Surprisingly, some of these fumbles may have come from those higher up the food chain who should know better. Or at least you would think they should.
Here’s another reason why this concern about writing so important. Remember that your writing is a reflection of you. It is impossible to know exactly where your writing will end up or who in the organizational hierarchy may eventually see it. Since not everyone may personally know you or be aware of your skill level, for them, your writing serves as a proxy indicator of your overall competence. If your writing comes across as incompetent or unprofessional, readers will assume you fit that description as well.
Again, as I originally proposed, in a world teeming with atrocious and unprofessional writing, quality content will shine and be readily noticed.
Is it possible your own writing skills could use some improvement? Here are a few suggestions to help your communications and writing look their best:
- Start looking at your writing carefully with a critical eye. If you are the least bit unsure about how to use a word, hyphen, quotation mark, etc., research it online. Finding the answer is easy, thanks to the almost unlimited number of grammar websites. The English departments of well-respected colleges host many of these helpful resources. Plus, you’ll know the correct way to handle the issue in the future.
- Consider using a free service such as Grammarly, QuillBot, etc. to check your content. While not every recommended change may be applicable or even correct, these sites can, at a minimum, help catch simple and embarrassing mistakes.
- Do you prefer a book? Dig out and dust off your old writer’s handbook or manual of style from college. No longer have it, or is it seriously outdated? Amazon and other booksellers carry an almost endless offering of books, many of which are inexpensive. Also, some companies or government agencies have their own manuals with the styles and formats required when preparing official documents.
- Do you have a trusted colleague, administrative assistant, or mentor who is excellent with writing and grammar? These individuals may be willing to discreetly review your material and offer suggestions for improvement.
- Be careful about being be too quick to accept the spelling and grammatical changes proposed by your word processor software. While these features have certainly improved, they sometimes still offer some pretty goofy and erroneous suggestions. Check out their recommendations before simply accepting the proposed changes.
- Bookmark and use a dictionary website such as https://www.merriam-webster.com. This resource can both verify spelling and help ensure you are using the word correctly.
- Do you tend to use the same word over and over? This problem plagues many inexperienced writers! Most dictionary sites can, with one click, take you to their thesaurus page, presenting multiple word options to avoid repetitiveness. However, I find many online thesauruses to be somewhat limited in their range of suggestions. If you don’t mind an actual book, and a big one at that, I would highly recommend The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale. Although this book has been out for many years, because of its tremendous number of alternative word offerings, it has no equal.
- Perhaps your company offers writing classes as part of an employee development program. Not only are these usually free, but participating shows your employer you are serious about improving your skills. If none is available and you definitely need improvement, consider taking a course through a college, either locally or online. Sure, this might sound like a lot of time and work, but think of it as an investment in your career!
Finally, as with sports or musical instruments, practice makes perfect. Write whenever you can, and volunteer for projects that involve writing. The more you write and check your work, the better you will become. Who knows? You might even start to enjoy writing!
You may also find that your career will benefit as people throughout the organization take note of your skills as an effective and exceptional writer and communicator!
Agree? Disagree? Please share your thoughts and experience!
Featured image courtesy of Ann Poan on Pexels.