Be a better writer: why and how

Here is a quote from The Business Style Handbook (a book with tips from Communication Experts at the Fortune 500): "In today's wired business environment, everyone writes for a living."

What does this mean?

This means that almost every job description involes some sort of writing: emails, memos, reports, letters, proposals, etc. Major companies like Nike, AT&T and Wal-Mart voted for good writing skills. In fact, good writing skills are associated with career growth in such companies. Writing is the art of communication and it is hard to write well.

Guess what happens when you write badly?

Your credibility suffers: "Inaccuracy, error, inconsistency, jargon and carelessness riddle a written document and you put your credibility on the line (BSH)."

Many of the graduating students face this problem. We declare that we can write essays and that "we suck at writing." True, colleges and universities do not teach us punctuation or good sentence structure. They do not teach us how to write conscisely, consistenly and clearly for the business world. We realize that wordiness and improper grammar and punctuation won't do, and yet, we choose not to do anything about it.
I am always amazed by the number of fellow graduates who write horribly messy and embarassing emails to professionals. Then, they put "good communication skills" on their resumes. NO!

Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Pick up a grammar book. You need one. Whether you are a professional or a student. The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation: An Easy-to-Use Guide with Clear Rules, Real-World Examples, and Reproducible Quizzes by Jane Straus is a good choice. You can purchase it from Amazon for $10.

2. Write in the active voice. When you write in the present tense, your writing screams ACTION/get things done. When you write in the past tense, you writing screams I AM BORING. Avoid wordy present tense by incorporating short sentences and active verbs into your writing in order to communicate exactly what you want to communicate. For example, seize vs. grasp vs. catch (all synonymous to grab but mean different things). Use an online Thesaurus for this.

3. Avoid buzzwords. These are sort of like the pick-up lines of the business world. About half of communication professionals at the Fortune 500 confirmed that they "hated" buzzwords.  If you are to use them, here are a few effective ones: value-added, input, impact (as a verb), broadband, synergies, bottom line, robust, leverage, proactive, paradigm shift, incentivize and corporatespeak.

4. Write as you speak. Nobody is impressed with a vocabulary that nobody knows. So, write as you would normally speak—conscisely, consistently and clearly. Simplicity can go a long way and you can incorporate extra creativity and complexity into the actual structure of what you are writing. This could include audience research and/or point of view, paragraphing, sentence structure and choosing the right medium for your writing.

5. Proof words that others often misspell. Although you should proof and double-proof every single piece of writing, pay extra attention to words others tend to misspell. These are words like acknowledgment (not acknowledgement), adviser (not advisor, unless you are British), afterward (not afterwards), dependent (not dependant), etc.

Hope that this helps. Good luck fellow writers!