Why Everyone on Your Team Should Strive for Good Writing

Your team depends on writing to communicate (think Slack). Here's how to empower your team to become stronger writers.

by RC Victorino January 3, 2020

Writing is an essential method of communication, no matter the role someone has on your team.

A designer may need to persuade both an engineer and UX writer to buy into her project proposal. How she writes her email or abstract could set the tone for her colleagues' level of enthusiasm.

An engineer may need to explain to a customer support rep the inner workings of a particular feature. How clear that explanation is can dictate how well the support rep does at educating the customer.

Hiring managers often write narrative summaries of their candidate interviews to share with colleagues. A compelling narrative will help others see what these managers saw in a candidate. Dry, confusing narratives can have an adverse effect.

Writing has become even more essential with the rise of chat tools like Slack, as well as the increase in remote work. Remote teams depend on writing and asynchronous communication. And if the upward trajectory over the last decade is any indication (as released by the U.S. Census) remote workers will become more ubiquitous. So, too, will the need for clear written communication.

remote

Tools like Slack make it easy for folks to get by with half-thoughts, jargon, and emoji some of the time. But writing well is still the foundation of how people connect with and influence others — whether or not your team is remote.

Of course, not everyone on your team writes well. Some people loathe it, others fear it. You can't expect to have wordsmiths across your organization. At the same time, you can cultivate a culture of good writing that empowers your team to be mindful of their messages.

To do that, let's first address an existing preconception.

Good writing isn't perfect grammar

Perfect grammar has its place. The fast-paced environment of your workplace likely isn't one of them.

  • Few people on your team should be expected to confidently identify a split infinitive.
  • No one should fear being critiqued for using the passive voice.
  • And no one should be judged for starting a sentence with and.

Your goal in fostering good writing is to help employees communicate effectively. Grammar, in the end, is just a set of rules designed to ensure folks understand your writing.

David Ogilvy, known as the father of advertising, agreed.

"I don't know the rules of grammar," Ogilvy once said. "If you're trying to persuade people to do something or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language."

Good writing executes on its mission

Every piece of writing has a purpose. This article's purpose, for example, is to:

  • Educate readers on how to develop their team's writing culture
  • Inspire others to write more
  • Introduce a specific audience to Slab

A social media post's purpose is to grab attention and (more often than not) illicit a click, comment, or share. An email from a CEO to investors aims to provide a progress update and get investors excited about the company's prospects.

If a person's writing achieves its intended purpose, chances are it's good writing. So, how do you help your team's writing meet its intended purpose?

This list below can help. We encourage you to share it with your team. It's applicable, even when it comes to something as brief as an email:

  • Identify your audience and message. Besides your journal, all writing has an audience. Who's yours? What action do you want that person to take? What key points do they need to know about in order to take action?
  • Outline your writing. It doesn't have to be complicated. Create a framework where each key point has its own section, arrange each section in a particular order, and add a few sentences about what each section is about.
  • Write your first draft. Fill in the holes of your outline with supporting sentences for each section. Use short sentences and paragraphs. Bullet points make writing easier to read, as can subheads (when they make sense to use).
  • Review and revise your writing. Good writing needs room to breathe. Employees should be encouraged to sit on their writing for at least a few hours (if not a full day) before reviewing it. That fresh perspective can be powerful. This is a great time to reach out to a colleague for a second set of eyes.

Good writing requires good tools (and feedback)

Earlier we said good writing doesn't mean you need perfect grammar. But excessively poor grammar and errors can be problematic.

Poor writing forces the reader to invest additional time and energy into deciphering the intended message. They'll likely have to follow up with clarifying questions, which can lead to frustration and delays.

Writing clearly, on the other hand, demonstrates that the writer respects the reader's time. This can lead to better working relationships and more fruitful project outcomes.

Fortunately, there are simple steps anyone can take to improve their writing without becoming overwhelmed. Here are a few of the tools and resources we use at Slab to improve our writing:

  • Grammarly — Checks for spelling and mechanical issues. Our resident content writer has the premium version, but most folks can get by with the free version.
  • Hemingway App — Similar to Grammarly (and also free). While Grammarly is the king of grammar and spelling, the Hemingway App shines as a tool to make writing concise yet clear.
  • Merriam-Webster — Your go-to resource for defining words and finding synonyms.
  • Strunk and White's Element of Style — The gold standard of writing mechanics. This book is easy to read through (it's very short!) and makes a great desk reference. It's worth giving every new employee.

While these resources help, feedback can be even more valuable. Here at Slab, feedback comes in two forms: peer reviews and self-reflection.

Peer reviews

We have two writers on our team who regularly review their colleagues' most important written communication (like job postings or emails to investors).

Our writers don't just revise the copy and move on. They provide specific feedback so that their teammates can apply those learnings in the future.

You may not have writers on your team, or your writers may not have the bandwidth for this work. In that case, hire a freelancer to review your most critical documents.

Finding good and reliable freelance writers isn't easy. To save you some time, we recommend you check out The Writer Finder or Copyblogger Certified Writers. Both of these sites work only with writers with proven talent and credentials.

Writer Access is also worth checking out. You can find writers based on your ideal budget.

Self-reflection

We touched upon reflection earlier on. Self-reflection has the power to improve well-being and performance. In a study published by researchers from Harvard, UNC, and Bocconi University, employees who spent 15 minutes reflecting on their day performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not reflect.

"Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection, will come even more effective action." Peter Drucker

Chances are not many people on your team reflect on their writing. It's not easy to schedule that into a busy day.

Here are a few ways you can establish a writing process that includes self-reflection:

  1. Be flexible. Give your team the freedom to reflect in a way that suits them. Some people prefer to write in a journal. Others prefer to collaborate with a colleague.
  2. Schedule time. Designate a specific time for your team to review their recent writings.
  3. Start small. Self-reflection can be uncomfortable. Don't force your team to spend an hour every week picking apart their words. Start small, with 20-minute sessions every two weeks, for example.

Mindful writing leads to better communication

With more teams hiring remote workers and using chat tools (like Slack), project management tools (like Asana), and email, there's no escaping the value of good writing.

Give your team the tools they need to be better writers. And demonstrate to them how much you value clear communication. The result will likely be higher morale, improved collaboration, and an increase in productivity.

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