Remote work means people will be involved in a lot of email threads and online conversations. That may sound easier, but these written forms of communication can, in fact, be harder to interpret. When you’re talking face-to-face with someone, you have a lot of clues to help you deduce what the speaker is saying. Apart from their words, you also sense the tone in their voice, see their hand gestures, and assess the level of urgency in the way they speak.
Written communication erases all that. People only have words — devoid of voice intonation and non-verbal cues — to interpret the message.
As such, today’s employers prize excellent written communication skills. With much of their teams working remotely, employers need team players with a strong command of the written language so that there’s no room for misunderstanding and delays.
So, here are a few ways you can improve your written communication skills.
Keep It Shorter and Simpler
A common misconception is that the bigger the words, the smarter you sound. Longer, verbose sentences show that you know what you’re talking about.
However, this is counterproductive. Longer, wordier sentences are more prone to misunderstanding. Moreover, a block of text is tedious to read. In a busy organization, nobody needs chunks of paragraphs; what your teammates want are short and simple messages.
Practice writing shorter sentences. If a sentence feels like it’s stretching too far (like occupying three paragraph lines), break it into two. Drop the “and” and separate the two clauses. Moreover, keep your paragraphs to three or four sentences. Not only does it give the reader time to pause, but it also creates white space to improve readability.
Strive for Clarity
Nobody wants to read a message twice because they got confused. To make sure your message is crystal-clear, think about your response before you type it.
People usually form their thoughts as they compose a response. But this results in cluttered and ambiguous messages. The better technique is to take a moment and structure a clear response in your head. Once you know what you want to say, type it. And before you hit Send, go back to your message to ensure you won’t be misunderstood.
Another way you could convey your thoughts clearly is to send a bulleted or numbered response. This effectively categorizes an otherwise cluttered message. Each concern lives in its own bullet, so there’s a clear request or resolution for each issue.
Make sure, too, that your responses are complete. If you receive a message that asks multiple questions, address each one. This way, the sender doesn’t have to ask about that one item “you overlooked.”
Because written communication doesn’t have non-verbal cues, your words would have to step in to convey warmth and friendliness. You don’t want to sound like an auto-replying Twitch bot.
- Address the sender by their names or honorifics. Say “Hello John” instead of a “Hello,” and “Thanks May,” instead of “Thanks for this.”
- Don’t forget to thank or apologize at the end of the message.
- If you’re asking for something, provide a reason. This makes it sound more of a request and less of an order.
Here’s a quick way to test your friendliness: imagine that you’ve just CC’ed the entire organization into the thread. Would your written voice still sound appropriate?
Read and Practice
You won’t get better at something unless you do it often. That’s why students are encouraged to practice outside vocal lessons and soccer practice. That holds for written communication, as well.
To know what good written language looks like, you have to immerse yourself in the written word. Read in your spare time; this not only familiarizes you with grammatical rules but also demonstrates proper sentence composition.
To further improve your skills, write often. If your daily work doesn’t involve writing, set a personal word count that you have to achieve every day. It doesn’t matter if you’re gunning for 1,000 words or just 100. What’s important is you practice.
Call When It’s Complicated
In some cases, emails aren’t enough to discuss the issue properly. If you think that online messaging would only lead to misunderstandings, schedule a call instead. Although written communication is commendable for most office concerns, it simply can’t replace the nuanced discussions in a personal talk.
Written communication is a necessary skill set for today’s workers. Apart from giving you an edge in job applications, it will also save your future team from frustrations and delays. A good command of the written word will take you far.