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From entry-level to CEO: the keyboard can be a constant on your path to success

Woman's hand over a keyboard

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Fiona Talbot, Globally successful business writing author, consultant, and founder of the ‘Word Power Skills’ writing system, shares practical insights to help professionals improve and optimise their communication so they can express themselves clearly, confidently, and professionally.

WRITING SKILLS MATTER – AS CODERS WELL KNOW

In fact, how I wish that the clarity and logical presentation that are second nature to coders and others involved in tech were better represented in the wider workforce today!  And it’s not just me doing that, it’s countless employers worldwide who clamour for staff with excellent writing skills.

It’s a fact that writing dominates the communication landscape right now. Most everyone is clacking away at a keyboard at some stage in their daily work life. But the challenges in getting it right on all levels are manifold, as I’m going to highlight now. Let’s talk through things you may need to consider on top of clarity and logic, where you have an innate advantage. And yes, writing is indeed ‘the new talking’: it needs to be conversational these days! That’s point one that’ll help you optimise your communication generally. That said, it’s a conversation that needs to lead somewhere (again you have an advantage) – not idle chitchat that wastes time and resources and goes nowhere.

A great – or should I say bad – example can be found in many instant messages today. Some key messages lie buried in a welter of small talk and are actually never found, because the chatter moves on. Don’t let that happen to the gems of information you need to communicate. Signpost them clearly, confidently, and proudly. That’s effective writing!

DEVELOP YOUR ‘PEOPLE’ SKILLS

This may be an area that you could develop in your writing. The fact you’re great at detail and love the data might mean you don’t realise that others can be fazed by it!

Let me give you some practical examples to help. For instance, you might present your boss with exciting data you’ve unearthed. But they look at it blankly. Don’t let this undermine your confidence. What you mightn’t realise is that yes, they did ask for this research but what they’re really hoping for is that you then suggest what could be made of it. What are the possibilities to consider? Set that out and you’ll boost your confidence. In one fell swoop, your writing becomes more user friendly and puts you on the map for further progression.

Another example, and one I’ve been closely involved with, is the world of technical literature. On many occasions, I’ve helped put the human aspect into technical writing simply by introducing ‘people’ words. It’s easy to fall into what’s known as a passive style of writing that does the reverse. You’ll see the difference in these styles: ‘A hard hat is to be used in these situations’ as contrasted with ‘You must wear a hard hat on site.’ The second is the active style: we know who’s involved. It’s clearly the person or people being addressed.

As another example, it’s easy to fall into writing technical info such as: ‘Even where no problems have been noticed with a computer’s operation, viruses should be checked for frequently’. Now can you convert this to something more reader-friendly?  Apple Macintosh was at the forefront of writing actively many years back with the lines: ‘Even if you don’t notice a problem with your computer’s operation, you should check for viruses frequently.’ You’ve spotted the key difference by now, haven’t you?  ‘You’ is one of the most powerful words in the English language for a reason. People engage with it! It’s not just a word for dedicated marketers to use, it’s for us all.

SO, PROJECT YOUR ‘INNER MARKETER’ TOO

Throughout your career be open to opportunity – and create opportunities. One opportunity is to start (and develop) your own personal brand. What’s that? Well, it’s basically what makes you tick, what drives you, and what values you have and seek. What’s your likely level of professionalism? Identify what you’re about. Write down an expressive headline that sums you up.

Are you creative as well as a logical analyst? You see, creativity is a greatly sought-after skill. It can give you a competitive edge that you may not have been highlighting as much as you should. Do you love communicating with and learning from others?  What career progression do you aspire to?

Right from the start of your career, create that written profile, that opportunity for a prospective employer to make you someone to hire. Embrace the power you have, right here, right now, to choose the right words in everything you write – not just the tech stuff –  to highlight you, your skillset, and how you can be an asset to the organisation you’re targeting.

Great communication is key to success wherever you go – not just for your first job but also on an ongoing basis. Honing these skills has to be a ‘work in progress’ throughout your career, wherever it goes!

Be open to opportunity – and create opportunities – in each exciting stage of your career.

WRITE SO YOU BRING PEOPLE ALONG WITH YOU

Accessible, inclusive language that says the right things and offers solutions, brings people on board. Seamless written communication draws people together, minimises team divisions, and builds bridges with customers. It’s a skill that needs refining throughout people’s careers and will keep you on track from entry level right through to CEO.

On top of the aspects I’ve already covered, you’ll need to keep up with changing ways of communicating. People expect a good reader experience now.

So stay aware that a good layout of your findings matters. As will keeping people in the loop – definitely update people on your findings. And check that they understand the jargon or neologisms you use. They may make perfect sense to you but seem unfathomable to others!

ULTIMATELY WHAT DOES PROFESSIONAL BUSINESS WRITING LOOK LIKE?

In the ultimate analysis, cover these four cornerstones that comprise the ‘Word Power Skills’ writing system I founded:

Firstly, professional writing has to be correct and mistake-free. The good news is that’ll be second nature to you. As will the second feature: be clear and concise. The third feature may be something to develop throughout your career: writing needs to make an impact, highlighting your expertise, and creating opportunities. The fourth aspect is: to focus on your readers as customers, whoever they are. See things from their perspective, be accessible, and write so everyone’s on the same page, reflecting the organisation’s ethos and goals.

Truly professional writing pulls the strands together, building bridges with words, and highlighting your expertise. It builds your confidence, knowing people have trust in you as a valued member of the team.  

If you’re mindful that the world’s your oyster; the sky can be the limit!

I hope I’ve instilled a passion in the subject.  Written word power helps you take your career where you want it to go!


Fiona Talbot, author of Word Power Skills

Fiona Talbot’s advice is set out in her latest book, the 4th edition of ‘How to Write Effective Business English’, published by Kogan Page. Get your copy here.

For further information or any queries contact Fiona at fiona.talbot@btconnect.com

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