We can’t help ourselves: bad habits. We all have them. I bet when you think about yours, the bad habits you fall back on when it comes to writing aren’t the first that spring to mind. But maybe they should be.
Since we start our educational journey at around four to five years of age, we learn the sounds that letters make so that we can learn to read. Then we learn to write. We’re encouraged to use bigger words, “wow” words, to expand our vocabulary. We learn to write to express our opinions and explore ideas. When we get to secondary school, we learn to write essays. We learn to write to hit word counts, which means verbose, flowery language is encouraged. We write introductions and body paragraphs and conclusions. Then at university – depending on what we study – we learn to write in a way that suits our chosen vocation; but does it really set us up for how we need to write to be influential in the workplace? The answer is: no, not really.
By the time we get to the workplace, we’ve been writing for most of our lives. That’s good in some ways, and not so great in others. Why? Because it means that when we sit down to write, we often do so without regard for how we approach it. But the truth is, for many people, their old writing habits are holding them back from being effective business writers; and to be successful in any workplace, that’s a skill you need to have.
So, what are the top five bad habits we repeatedly see that hold people back from having more influence at work and becoming more effective business writers?
1. They write without considering their audience
Firstly, many people are not aware of how their personality affects their writing style. If they’re abrupt and direct, that’s how they write. They write in a way that they would like to be communicated with. But they need to stop and consider their audience first; that it may consist of people who may not appreciate the same style and tone.
2. They focus on what they want to say, not WHY
Secondly, too many people ask themselves: “What do I want to say” rather than “Why do I need to say it?”. That means they’re in the habit of writing without purpose – and without a clear plan – and if your purpose is not clear to you, it definitely won’t be to your audience. That means that you won’t get the outcome you need. Also, if you don’t have a plan for your writing, you – and your audience – could end up somewhere you really didn’t intend to go!
3. They think that more is more
Next up, we have the bad habit of applying the “more is more” philosophy. Many subscribe to the belief that a lot of words are required to establish their credibility. They can also fall into the trap of using elaborate words, technical terms and jargon to position themselves as well qualified, subject matter experts. The truth is, in most cases, less is more. People are busy in the world of work. They don’t have time to decipher meaning. They already know you are the expert; they just want you to tell them in simple terms what is you want and why.
4. They write like an academic
Then we have people who have learned habits in university that have stuck with them. They write providing all the background and context without getting to the point upfront. That’s not to suggest that context doesn’t have its place, but not at the expense of the purpose of your communication. If you bore people upfront with unnecessary context, they’ll switch off and you won’t have them on the hook.
5. They don’t check their grammar and their spelling
This sounds like a basic one, but when people don’t get basic grammar, spelling and punctuation right, it can change the meaning of their work (misplaced apostrophes and commas are the main culprits here) or just make them look a little sloppy. By contrast, good grammar and spelling shows attention to detail which is highly valued in pretty much every job.
So, if these are the top five bad habits and you recognise that you fall back on one, some, or even all of them, what can you do to change it? There’s no shame in it, only the potential for positive change and growth.
Common wisdom says that it takes around 66 days to form a new habit. So, like anything, it takes time and persistence. You need to focus on applying the new habits diligently – and daily – to your writing. It can be a little uncomfortable at first. At One Tribe, we call it building your writing muscle. Like any muscle, it gets stronger and stronger over time. We ask our online business writing course participants to sit with the discomfort of approaching things differently for a little while. In the end, it’s worth it; you will reap the rewards.
Your writing will be purposeful, clearer, more concise and more influential. You’ll get more of the outcomes you need at work – and we all want more of that.
What do you think? Is it time for you to set some new writing habits?
Check out our Business Writing for Influence course to find out more.