Writing skills are an important part of communication. Good writing skills allow you to communicate your message with clarity and ease to a far larger audience than through face-to-face or telephone conversations.
You might be called upon to write a report, plan or strategy at work; write a grant application or press release within a volunteering role; or you may fancy communicating your ideas online via a blog. And, of course, a well written C.V. or résumé with no spelling or grammatical mistakes is essential if you want a new job. Or perhaps you want to develop your Study Skills and learn how to learn more effectively.
Today, when anyone can be their own publisher, we see more and more examples of poor writing skills both in print and on the web. Poor writing skills create poor first impressions and many readers will have an immediate negative reaction if they spot a spelling or grammatical mistake. As just one example, a spelling mistake on a commercial web page may cause potential customers to doubt the credibility of the website and the organisation.
For many of us it will have been a long time since we were taught any writing skills and a refresher may be needed. This section of SkillsYouNeed aims to make you think about grammar, spelling and punctuation, how to plan your writing, and the various processes and checks to go through before pressing print or broadcasting your message online.
Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation
Correct grammar, punctuation and spelling are key in written communications. The reader will form an opinion of you, the author, based on both the content and presentation, and errors are likely to lead them to form a negative impression.
If you are unconvinced about the importance of accurate writing, think of the clues we use to identify spam emails, “phishing” websites, and counterfeit products: poor grammar and spelling. Similarly, some employers state publicly that any CV containing spelling or grammatical mistakes will be rejected immediately, whilst a BBC news article quotes research that calculates spelling mistakes cost online businesses “millions” in lost sales.
In addition, checking for poor writing and spelling mistakes should be seen as a courtesy to your readers since it can take them much longer to understand the messages in your writing if they have to think and re-read text to decipher these.
Therefore, all written communications should be re-read before sending to print, or hitting the send button in the case of emails, as it is likely that there will be errors. Do not assume that spelling and grammar checkers will identify all mistakes as many incorrect words can indeed be spelt correctly (for example, when “their” is used instead of “there” or “principle” instead of “principal”) or entire words may be missing. If at all possible, take a break before re-reading and checking your writing as you are more likely to notice problems when you read it fresh.
Even if you know spelling and grammar rules, you should still double check your work. Our brains work faster than our fingers can type and accidental typographical errors (typos) inevitably creep in.
Improving Your Writing Skills
A trick to checking your work and improving your writing skills is to read your work aloud. Reading text forces you to slow down and you will pick up problems with the flow that your eye would otherwise skip over.
Another way to improve your writing skills is to read - as you read you pick up new vocabulary and engage with different writing styles.
However, the best way to improve is to write. Try writing practice pieces that you do not even need to show anyone else. As your confidence as a writer grows, you may feel happy to show your writing to friends or others and, when you do, ask for their honest feedback and constructive criticism. You might even find a friend or colleague willing to act as a writing mentor to work with you as your writing skills develop.