Ask yourself something, right now: when you receive messy written communication, how do you feel about the sender? Not long ago, I received an invitation to audition for an upcoming production of a show I've long wanted to do. It was a role that I was dying to play, in a great location. I saw the subject line in the email, and was immediately thrilled.
I clicked on the email with great anticipation. What followed was a message written in all capital letters, without punctuation. Without a greeting. Laden with misspellings. My first thought was "I'm a professional actor, and there is nothing professional about this production." I was baffled by the lack of care and attention taken in the writing — wouldn't you want to put your best foot forward in a professional exchange? I turned down the audition.
A few years back, our friends at Microsoft commissioned a study to discover what students needed to know for the jobs of the future. Here's a quick summary of their findings:
"The study provides insight into the skills students need for the top 60 high-growth, high-wage occupations that will account for 11.5 million new hires and 28 percent of job growth by 2020. Out of those skills, oral and written communication, detail orientation, and Microsoft Office proficiency top the list."
(You can find more details in this article.) While we always herald the importance of communication skills in the workplace of any kind, it's worth noting that written communication skills made it on to this list. What that tells us, loud and clear, is that employers need to know that the people they hire can speak AND write about what they do.
Why might that be? Why do employers value written communication skills in the workplace? Here are a few reasons why they matter:
What used to be verbal is now written: Think back to the olden days (Ok, not that olden. Technology just makes it feel that way...), when communication often happened face-to-face or over the phone. Did you need writing skills then? Absolutely. People still wrote letters, and proposals, and case studies. But now, much of what used to be verbal communication is written. Email has replaced a phone call or a walk to someone's office to discuss an issue. We order products on line, text to let someone know that we're running late for a meeting. There is a huge growth in business-related writing that we do on a daily basis — more than ever before.
Writing skills reflect on the organization: Just like the story of my audition offer, the state of someone's written communication can color what we think about them. Employers know that people may meet their company in writing first, whether through an introductory email, website content, or even a twitter feed. That first impression is incredibly important. If an employee writes without audience consideration, or fails to give a call-to-action to the reader, or even makes simple errors in spelling and grammar, that can ding the reputation of an organization over time. Employers need to know that employees make a good impression in all communication, for the good of their business.
Clarity ultimately saves time and enhances productivity: In our written communication for business brochure, we discuss the AIDA approach to business writing. Part of this approach demands that you be clear, concise, and specific with your reader. Ultimately, clarity in writing avoids confusion over direction, necessity to rehash old topics, and reduces wasted time in email or project loops. Simply put, this means you can accomplish more, in less time. Good for everyone.
Even after a successful verbal interaction, people often want it in writing: Here's an example: An employee WOWS the crowd with a conference presentation about their latest innovation. People are blown away! The perfect companion piece? The presenters well-written (and well-designed, of course) slides. Excellent writing in supplementary materials keeps the good post-presentation feeling going. This goes for any business dealing that requires written follow-up. Written materials can enhance verbal communication, and should never detract from it.
How do you feel about written communication? Is it important to you? How does "bad writing" make you feel? Let us know in the comments below!
Want to make the most of your verbal communication skills? Start here: