You don’t need to be the great next American novelist to use writing skills. Writing skills apply to nearly every field, even if you’re not working in a creative career.
At work, writing is a hard skill we use to send informative updates, check in with coworkers, document our work, and more. In this guide, you’ll learn how to improve your writing skills and show them off in job applications. We’ll cover:
- Writing Skills Definition
- Why Are Writing Skills Important in the Workplace?
- How to Include Writing Skills in a Job Application
- How to Improve Your Writing Skills
Writing Skills Definition
Writing skills are the skills you use to write effectively and succinctly. A good writer is someone who can communicate their point to their audience without using too much fluff and in a way that the other person can understand.
Writing skills don’t just include the physical act of writing. Skills like research, planning and outlining, editing, revising, spelling and grammar, and organization are critical components of the writing process.
In the workplace, writing skills examples include:
- Documenting a process for someone else to learn it
- Summarizing a meeting in an email for all attendees
- Sharing a team update in Slack
- Crafting a mass email to send to prospective customers
- Communicating with a client via email to get action on next steps
Why Are Writing Skills Important in the Workplace?
You don’t need the title “writer” to use writing skills at work. You might be a marketer drafting copy that will entice an audience to join your virtual event or a UX designer trying to nail the best home page text to get people to click the “learn more” button. Maybe you’re a lawyer communicating with a client over email or an investment banker sharing a status update with your manager.
Writing skills are needed in all workplaces, especially hybrid and remote ones.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employees, written communication skills are a top skill employers look for on student resumes right now, with 73.3% of employers searching for these skills — compared to 58.8% of employers looking for verbal communication skills.
“We’re seeing that written communication is even more critical than it once was,” Bryana Holcomb, business and success coach, says. “Some of the most important writing skills that every employee should have include grammar, clarity, appropriate tone, and the ability to be concise when needed. One of my favorite memes on social media is the one that says, ‘This meeting could have been an email.’ The caveat to that is in order to skip out on those ‘pointless meetings,’ we have to be able to express our needs, deliverables, roles, etc. clearly and effectively through email.”
How to Include Writing Skills in a Job Application
There are two ways to show your writing skills in a job application: first, in your written materials (resume and cover letter) and second, in how you describe your writing skills in the interview.
“The best way to showcase your writing skills on a job application or resume is to first have both be well written,” Holcomb says. “This means double-checking for spelling and syntax errors and making sure your thoughts are clear.”
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Every written correspondence with the hiring manager is a chance to show off your writing skills. Be concise with no grammatical errors.
In the interview, describe how your writing — an email, copy, report, or essay — led to a specific accomplishment.
“Highlighting the ways you have leveraged writing effectively in your previous experiences is also important,” Holcomb says. “Whether you talk about the sales copy that helped your company land a multi-figure client or the emails you crafted that shifted the company culture for the better, all of your experiences count and should be highlighted.”
How to Improve Your Writing Skills
Start With Your Audience
Before you start writing, think about who you’re writing for. Your audience affects how much context you give, what tone you use, and even the message you want the audience to take away. Ask yourself:
- Why am I communicating with them, specifically?
- What information do they already know? What context should I give them, if any?
- What do I want this person to do after I’ve sent my message?
Know the Right Tone
Every industry expects a different level of professionalism. So how do you know how formal to be and what corporate jargon to use?
Start by looking at the job description, company website, and other company communications, including employee LinkedIn posts. Of course, it’s always better to err on the side of formality.
If you want to try your hand at professional writing before you apply, try one of Forage’s virtual experience programs. You’ll get a chance to do the kind of work you would in an entry-level role and learn how to communicate that work through client emails, email updates to your manager, and more.
Get to the Point
“Writing an email is essentially like writing a media pitch and trying to capture the attention of a reporter,” Jamie Levin, communications consultant, says. “Think about it, you have about 11 seconds to capture the attention of your reader, so what’s most important? I can tell you what’s not…unnecessary words, adjectives that don’t add value and taking the time to explain something that would be much better off communicated in a face-to-face conversation.”
Before sending an email, update, or other written communication, challenge yourself to decrease your word count. For example, see if you can make the 200-word email only 150. This exercise will help you know if you have any “fluff” words that might be overcomplicating your writing.
Edit and Proofread
Sometimes, your best editor is your future self. Take a step back after you’ve finished writing something — even if it’s an email — and look back at it five minutes or even an hour later (if you have the time) to edit and proofread.
Don’t be afraid to rely on outside sources to help you catch spelling and grammar errors. Sites like Grammarly can help make your writing error-free and suggest different wording depending on your audience’s knowledge level and the tone you’re aiming for.
Seek Outside Support
Holcomb recommends taking advantage of online and in-person classes that can help improve your writing skills.
“While you’re strengthening your skills in courses you can also seek support from people —this can be colleagues, managers, or mentors — by asking them to proof your work and provide feedback before you make your final submissions.”
Feedback is especially important in the job application process. For example, having another set of eyes on your cover letter can help ensure you submit something clear, compelling, and error-free.
Don’t Overthink It
While there’s a lot you can do to improve your writing skills, you don’t need to labor over every written communication. In an increasingly virtual world, there are so many emails and messages that you’ll waste valuable time trying to plan, edit, and revise every one.
“Don’t overthink – it’s an email. It shouldn’t take 20 minutes to draft, and then additional 20 minutes spent thinking about how it might be interpreted. Get to the point,” Levin says. “Remember, it’s only an email (or a Teams chat) and it often requires additional elaboration in the form of verbal communication and an open discussion, whether that be in-person or via a video chat.”
Instead, focus on improving your writing and communication skills as a whole. With practice, those short messages will become second-hand nature.
Looking to improve your professional writing skills? Try ANZ’s Preparing You for the Workforce Virtual Experience Program, where you can practice research, email writing, and presentation skills.
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