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Choosing The Write (Right) Words — Effective Communication Part II

Every employer wants employees with solid communication skills. The ability to communicate allows you to share your ideas and contribute to the growth of an organization. For this reason, your success in any career is determined by your skill at presenting your message to others.

While most people feel comfortable speaking, many view writing as a source of frustration. That means that any steps you can take towards improving your writing skills will place you head and shoulders above others in the job market.

Know Your Audience
The more you know about the person or people who will be reading your writing, the easier it is to tailor a message that is appropriate to them. Ask yourself "why am I writing to this person? What is the most important thing for them to get out of this?" Even when you're writing to ask for something, think in terms of their needs, and ways in which you can help satisfy them. You'll often find that what is most important to you is not most important to the audience, so be careful to present your writing in a way that appeals directly to the audience and their needs or wants.

Speak To The Page
Some people get hung up on writing because it forces them to structure their thoughts. This is actually one quality that makes writing such an important, beneficial skill to master. But if structuring your thoughts is making it overly difficult for you to write, learn the technique of "speaking to the page." When doing this, you forget that you are writing at all. Instead, you imagine that you are talking to somebody, but instead of actually speaking the words, you write the words with no thought to structure or rules of any kind. The most important thing at this stage is getting words on paper. Writing can always be fixed later, so pour it all out, and don't worry about the quality of the writing. Just make sure if you try this technique you remember to be especially careful in proofreading and rewriting later.

Spelling Counts
Everything you write is a reflection of you. Spelling errors tell the reader that you don't have pride in your work or that you don't care enough about them to take the time to do a good job. Worse, spelling errors detract from your credibility. Even the best articulated ideas may be dismissed out of hand because of a typo.

Many computer programs have the ability to check spelling for you. That can help to catch some obvious spelling errors, but don't rely on the computer exclusively. A computer won't flag the word "form" when what you meant was "from."

For a critical piece, it's nice if you can have a second set of eyes check the document as well. You know what you meant to say, so it's very easy to skip over a trouble spot that others might be more likely to catch. If it isn't possible to have somebody else look at your work, one proofreader trick is to read the page backwards, starting from the right and moving left. This is more time consuming, but it breaks up the flow of your reading allowing you to focus on the words themselves. You'll still need to read it forwards to check for grammar, sentence flow and structure.

What Was That Rule?
Computers are good about catching spelling errors, but programs that check grammar are still a little bit buggy. Grammar is such an abstract process, it is just too difficult to tell the computer what to consider an error. If the program you're working with has a grammar checking feature, treat it as a very general guide to what to check. You'll still need to know all those rules about dangling participles or verbs agreeing with their subjects. We couldn't possibly list all the rules of grammar here. It would fill pages, so if you're a little shaky on what a preposition is and why you shouldn't end a sentence with one, it might be a good idea to buy a book on grammar and give yourself a refresher course.

Good Writing Flows
Quality writing moves naturally from sentence to sentence, idea to idea. This is accomplished by organizing a piece of writing with thoughts that build easily into each other, and with transitional phrases. A transitional phrase is something such as "in addition" or "next." These words bridge concepts and smooth the process of reading. As you're reading over your work, if you find the structure is choppy, look for ways to add transitions.

Be Active
Dynamic, effective writing uses an active rather than a passive voice. An active voice means that the subject of the sentence is doing something instead of having something done to it. For instance the sentence "Bob ran to the store" is active because the subject, Bob, is doing something, running. By comparison, "Bob was at the store" is passive because Bob is not actively doing anything. It can be very challenging trying to make every sentence active, but if most of your sentences are passive, it would be a good idea to try to make more of them active.

Keep It Short and Sweet
Institutions of higher learning tend to prefer extremely esoteric prose composed primarily of polysyllabic words. That is to say teachers like big words. In business, shorter is generally better. You're trying to communicate an idea, and business people don't have time to sift through a lot of verbiage. Get to the point as quickly as possible, and support that with relevant material.

Of course this is a generality. Don't forget that one of the first steps in good writing is knowing your audience. If you're writing for somebody who prefers big words, sprinkling a few into your writing could make you seem more capable in that person's eyes. Just use good judgment and don't try to write above a level with which you are comfortable. The writing of people who are spending all their time referring to a thesaurus stands out like a sore thumb.

Personalize Your Writing
Often, the process of writing makes people more formal. This isn't a bad thing, but don't lose sight of the fact that the writing is a representation of you. In a note or letter, it can be a nice touch to let a few of the phrases that are unique to you slip through. This keeps your writing friendly and personable, and generally makes the writing flow more naturally. Once again, know your audience. Some forms of writing would actually benefit from increased formality, so use your judgment and have fun.

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