The Importance of Written Communication Skills

Martin Yate By Martin Yate November 17, 2020
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The Importance of Written Communication Skills

Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

Recently, a senior HR generalist wrote to me about a complex series of issues with his job search that he needed to address. His e-mail was one full page of text without a single paragraph break and with numerous typos and grammatical errors.

It was obvious that his written communication skills were his biggest problem. We had to fix those before addressing his cover letter, e-mail and resume.

Communication is one of the most important soft skills that help us reach our full professional capacity and earning potential.

According to Fast Company magazine, job postings have cited effective communication as a sought-after skill 35 times more frequently than other soft skills. Other highly regarded skills include technical ability pertinent to the job, critical thinking, multi-tasking, working as a team, creativity and leadership.

4 Skills of Persuasive Communication

There are four primary persuasive communication skills:

  1. Listening. Listen to understand, rather than just wait for your turn to talk.
  2. Speaking. Know what to say and how to say it.
  3. Writing. Be clear in what you are conveying in writing.
  4. Utilizing technology. Evaluate the protocols, strengths and weaknesses of different communication media; choose the correct one; and know how to use the medium appropriate to your audience and message.

Let's focus on quick fixes for effective written communication that will supercharge your resume, business communications and cover letters.

When you think through the steps of recruitment, you'll see that written communication is a hiring manager's or recruiter's first view of you and the skills you offer. While writing resumes and cover letters is a difficult task, it gives you the opportunity to present yourself as educated, caring and able to communicate effectively. Strong writing skills are essential for success in any profession, especially during job transition. Here are some tips to follow when you are writing your cover letters and e-mail.

Sentences

Sentences should average around 23 words, but sentences that are all the same length are boring to read, so vary their length. Make some sentences as short as 14 words and a few perhaps as long as 30 words. With a long sentence, find a place to cut it in two, or turn part of the sentence into a couple of bullets.

Paragraphs

A paragraph is usually two or more sentences that address a single thought or topic. You can keep a paragraph tight (i.e., with a single focus) by rereading your work carefully. When you find the focus changing, start a new paragraph. Long paragraphs are difficult to read and turn readers off.

Keep paragraphs easy to read by making them shorter than seven lines. Longer paragraphs are difficult for the eye to penetrate.

A cover letter made up of long paragraphs won't get read as often because it is more difficult to understand and sends the reader a negative message about your ability to communicate clearly and concisely. As editors say, "If in doubt, cut it out." Paring down a sentence will make it stronger.

Tools to Be Clear and Concise

A fast way to upgrade the clarity and structure of your writing is by using Grammarly, which checks your spelling, grammar and punctuation for free. For about $10 a month, it will also help you clarify your communication, tone, fluency, conciseness, inclusiveness and word choice. It will tell you when your tone is informative, friendly, angry or defiant.

The free version is a must-have, and the premium version could make a significant difference in how your correspondence is received by managers and colleagues.

The Writing Center at the University of Richmond in Virginia addresses the issue of clarity in writing and offers these five pithy commentaries on improving your communication skills:

Guidelines for Nonsexist Usage

Avoiding Cliches and Tired Phrases

Commonly Confused Words

Confusing Pronouns

Putting Voice into Writing

Absorb the advice, and you'll come across as a wiser and more desirable employee with far better verbal and writing skills.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

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