The Write Stuff – Blog

Sep 04 2011 7 Ways to Improve Your Written Communication
How to improve your written communication

No matter what you do for a living, chances are at some stage you’ll be required to produce a piece of writing – whether it be a report for your boss, a letter to a client, or a simple email to a colleague.

Sure, these may not be feature articles for National Geographic or The New York Times, but your writing will carry more authority if it’s well written and free from typographic errors.

While writing may not be everyone’s strongest skill, there are a number of simple things you can do to improve your written communication.

1. Check your spelling

Spell check is a useful tool, but don’t assume a lack of wiggly red lines means there are no spelling mistakes. Carefully read your text to ensure the right words are used in the right context.

2. Don’t forget your thesaurus

If you find you’re repeating the same words throughout your text, a thesaurus can provide synonyms to make your copy flow better and sound more professional.

3. Print your copy for proof-reading

It’s often much easier to spot mistakes on printed copy than on-screen; use a ruler to focus on each line, while jotting down amendments in red pen as you go.

4. Proof-read emails before sending them

This may seem obvious, but emails are such a quick method of communication that people often hit ‘send’ without making sure they’re free from errors, or that they’ll make sense to the recipient. Emails are no different to any other letter or brochure you would send from your office – take the time to ensure they’re right!

5. Have ‘fresh eyes’ read your copy

Often when re-reading text, we read what we THINK we’ve written, rather than what we HAVE written, making it easy to miss mistakes. A fresh set of eyes will often pick up errors. Whenever possible get someone else proof your copy or, at the very least, leave it for 2–24 hours before reviewing it yourself.

6. Keep a dictionary handy when reading

Whenever you come across an unfamiliar word, be sure to look it up. It will improve your overall vocabulary and make writing an easier task.

7. Read your copy out loud

When reading to yourself there’s a tendency to skim the words. Reading out loud makes you focus on each word, so not only is it easier to pick up mistakes, but it also gives you a better feel for how the text flows.

Got any other tips or tricks to add? I’d love to hear them.

Posted in Communication, Copywriting Tips by 14 comments

14 Responses to “7 Ways to Improve Your Written Communication”

  • Reply Kate Toon September 05, 2011at 7:52 am

    Hey really good ideas here, but ones that I always forget! I look back at my emails ‘fist in mouth’ shamed at the appalling writing. Reading out loud is a good one, I catch a lot of flaws that way. But as Belinda says ‘sharing is caring’ when it comes to copywriting. 

    • Reply Anna Butler September 07, 2011at 1:58 am

      Hi Kate, it sure is harder to pick up mistakes in those mediums which offer such immediacy, like emails and Twitter/Facebook posts. You can’t exactly leave them over night, or have someone else stop by to read them (can you imagine how tedious that would be?!!). That’s where taking an extra couple of seconds to read out loud can help pick up any of the real obvious mistakes.

      If anyone has any better ways to fool-proof quick reply mediums, I’d LOVE to hear them 😀 

  • Reply Belinda Weaver September 05, 2011at 12:44 am

    Excellent tips Anna and having so many tips centred on proofing your content highlights just how important the proofing stage is. Apart from denting your credibility, badly proofed communication distracts the reader from your ultimate message. 

    I would add that if you aren’t very good at picking up errors in your own writing, try and bring someone else into your process. Thanks for sharing this list! 

    • Reply Anna Butler September 05, 2011at 1:00 am

      Thanks for your insightful comments Belinda 🙂 

      Having received some appallingly bad written communication from senior management over the years, it certainly does make you raise an eyebrow or two. But we are all human and while the odd mistake is bound to happen, it’s certainly much better if you can pick them up before anyone else.

  • Reply Chris Lucas September 05, 2011at 1:12 am

    Thanks Anna…. Love the tip about reading out loud and looking at with “Fresh Eyes”.  I’ll be sure to share this post for you too 🙂

    • Reply Anna Butler September 05, 2011at 1:17 am

      Thanks for your feedback Chris 🙂 

      I also use the ‘reading out loud’ tip to practise my speaking skills: breathing, pacing, enunciation, etc., and it really does highlight any ‘clumsy’ areas.

  • Reply Adrian Brien Auto September 07, 2011at 2:23 am

    Great post. Some common mistakes that I look out for include.

    Your headline should sell your copy, if you’re headline doesn’t sell your copy then your copy won’t get read. Some proven formulas for headlines include “How To…”, a numbered list e.g. “6 Ways To…”, use of “Discover” promising that the reader will learn something and “Quick Tips” promising that it is quick and easy.

    “I’s” vs “You’s” – read your work and count the number of times you talk about yourself vs the number of times you talk about your customers. You want the “You’s” to be more abundant than the “I’s”, that is how you know that you have written something that is of benefit to your customers as opposed to something that is self gratifying and only of benefit to yourself.

    Repetition – I often find people repeatedly using the same words or group of words a lot, e.g. instead of using the word “good” over and over again you can use “great”, “fantastic”, “excellent” etc. Adding some variety will help keep your copy more interesting.

    Cheers

    Loc

    • Reply Anna Butler September 07, 2011at 2:32 am

      Some fantastic advice Loc and certainly very useful for blogs and sales-driven copy (in whatever form it may take). Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Reply Complete IP September 08, 2011at 2:19 am

    Good tips Anna. I especially agree with the need to proof read emails. I know someone that once ended a work related email with “do hesitate to contact us with any questions” and hit send before realising the mistake (and no, it wasn’t me) – clearly not the message we had wanted to give the client 🙂

    My other ‘tip’ to improve written communication would be to read, read and then read some more. Being familiar with a variety of writing styles can help influence your own I think. 

    • Reply Anna Butler September 08, 2011at 2:39 am

      I wonder if the recipient of the email noticed the gaffe. Hopefully not. 

      Meanwhile, your tip to read, read and read some more is another good one. It’s not only a great way to expose yourself to a variety of styles, but also to get a feel for how the text should flow and what feels “right”. 

      Thanks for your comments 🙂

    • Reply Belinda Weaver September 08, 2011at 2:43 am

      Oh I do that all the time – missing out the negative or even adding it in and completely changing the sentiment! It’s something I’m especially aware of now and use the read aloud technique to pick it up in quick emails.

      • Reply Anna Butler September 08, 2011at 2:47 am

        Sometimes those “quick” edits can get you into all kinds of mischief!

  • Reply Robin June 25, 2014at 10:24 am

    Great article. A significant problem with email used in business is the layout and formatting. People seem to forget the rules of paragraphing and layout when writing email messages. Some people write dozens of sentences all joined together … a very poor practice.

    Most emails should also have an opening sentence that explains what the message is about (that supports the subject heading). They should have a body that expands on the topic and perhaps an action ending. An action ending, as the name suggests, tells readers what is going to happen next as a result of the email.

    Proper layout, formatting and applying principles of business communication will promote image, help understanding, and generally provide a better experience for readers.

    • Reply Anna Butler June 25, 2014at 11:12 am

      Thanks for your comment, Robin, and I couldn’t agree more!

      I often add extra paragraph breaks – even if they’re not technically required – simply to break up the text to make it easier to read. Bullets are also great for emails covering a number of items.

      I’ve also heard people suggest “bolding” the important parts of emails to ensure the recipient knows exactly what needs to be actioned.

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