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How to Improve Writing in the Workplace - Let's Make a Start!

A good place to begin is to go back and clear up common myths and misconceptions about writing. Many of the “rules” we learned in school are now considered outdated dogma, prescriptive decrees on usage-based on long-standing custom controversial from inception centuries ago. A related but separate issue involves generalisations that are not incorrect but when followed slavishly can be unhelpful, impractical, or impossible.

Active or Passive Voice? For example, we have all been told to use active voice instead of passive. There is nothing wrong with passive voice in itself. In certain contexts, the passive is preferable. Abstract words help us communicate ideas and better understand our world. But often they are used to cover up mistakes or even crimes. Instead of talking about rules, I believe it is better to understand how choices of grammar, style, and wording impact communication. This approach is a more effective way of teaching and learning how to write. It is also more fun.

The best way to develop your writing is through practice. Remember, improvement comes only by the discipline of critiquing your work from the viewpoint of an editor or one of your readers. Writing requires attention to many things at once. Even the best writers must be on the lookout for falling into lazy habits or being blindsided by being too close to their ideas. A big part of good writing involves attentive editing. You may want to keep an editing checklist.

Feedback is a valuable teacher, provided you know how to use it. We all love to hear praise. But blanket praise, such as “great” or “well done” is not as valuable as understanding what it was that worked to engage readers. Criticism is usually more helpful, especially when it is constructive, that is, points to things you can alter to strengthen your argument. If someone says they gave up reading, the problem is more likely to be that you lost them, not that they got lost. How could you have explained your ideas more clearly? How can you restructure your writing to make sure readers do not give up before they have gotten to your main point? The solution may be as simple as moving a paragraph nearer the start of your document. Be sure to explain what is in it for them within the first few sentences. However, not all feedback is helpful. No writer, not even the best, manages to please everyone.

Reading as much as possible with a critical eye. This is almost as vital as learning by writing. If you enjoy reading an article about a complex subject that you previously knew little about and were not interested in, have a second look at the piece and take note of techniques they used. On the other hand, if an article fails to convince you, ask yourself why.

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John Kohut, 2020