Key tips for really good professional writing and stuff

They say that success is 10% technical ability and 90% communication ability*.

I doubt this is accurate, but despite its dodgy scientific foundation, it makes the point that how we impact the people we work with is often more important than the tasks.

How we communicate is the main way we judge each other, and this makes it open season for our unconscious biases to get stuck in. If someone sounds waffly and incoherent, we jump to the conclusion that they don’t know what they’re talking about. If they sound doubtful, then we assume they’re probably wrong because confidence is so much more convincing. If they’re difficult to understand, then most probably we will make the leap that they’re not worth listening to.

The same is true for writing: bad writing makes a bad impression.

Here’s a real-life example from the Plain English Campaign’s Golden Bull Award 2020:

The Executive Team concluded that it was appropriate to adjust our plans for the transition to blended learning, by rephasing the commencement of the transition phase for two weeks.

They could have just said it was two-week delay.

It’s so easy to sound muddled and confusing, to find your argument lost in poor structure, bad grammar and inappropriate tone. How often do you read something that sounds like a hyperbolic appeal to the emotions, a superficial waffle of opinionated bluster, when what you really need is an objective evidence-led explanation that will help you make a more informed decision?

Professional writing skills are key to our personal impact at work, and avoiding words like “key” is a good start. Unless you’re talking about an actual key, it’s a lazy cliché of a word that is really just an opinion dressed up as a fact.

So I asked some professional writer friends of mine to share some advice for a webinar I was running. They include a publisher, a communications expert, a (retired) consultant, a professor of creative and professional writing, and the director of an international NGO.

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