Any management consultant will tell you that communication skills are vital to success in business. Business is fundamentally about getting other people to make decisions and give commitments -- getting employees to be productive, customers to buy your product or service, government to leave you alone -- and you can’t make these things happen if you can’t communicate well.
Communication can take many forms, such as video, speaking, phone calls, illustration, texting, email, signage, advertising, blogging, publicity and others. Doing any of these well requires good writing skills.
Why? Because good writing is fundamentally good thinking that follows a logical path and is easy for someone to follow. Writing out what you want to communicate forces you to organize your thoughts.
Of course, good writing is more than logic in action. It also must touch the reader, listener or viewer emotionally. Otherwise, it won’t connect or lead to the behavior you are seeking to create.
What are the attributes of a good writer?
Clear Thinking: It is impossible to write well without thinking clearly. You must understand what you want to say and be able to explain it. And I’m not talking about intelligence. A dull person can write better than a brilliant one if he clearly understands what he wants to communicate and sticks to it without wandering off into irrelevancies. In fact, smart people are sometimes quite poor writers because their desire to show off can muddy the message. (See “Economy” below.)
Knowing The Rules: The best writers regularly break the rules of grammar, but only after they’ve thoroughly learned them to the point that they are second nature. The difference between a masterful and hack painter of abstract art is that the master first learned how to paint representational art. He had a base to begin from and, as a result, his abstract work has a balance and harmony that the hack’s work will never possess. Picasso said he had to first learn to paint like Raphael before he could paint like a child.
Good Reading Habits: Simply knowing the rules of grammar and how to spell does not make you a writer. You have to read good writers to know what good writing looks like. Read a variety of good writers, which makes it less likely you’ll simply parrot someone’s style. And also fill your brain with lots of information you can use in your writing. Writers should read widely -- not just good literature, but also good non-fiction on a variety of topics, such as history, biography, science, politics, art and technology.
Curiosity: Being curious leads you to read widely, of course, but also to observe carefully the world around you -- both the animate and inanimate worlds -- and to ask questions and seek out people who know things you don’t know. Be a lifelong learner and you will continually grow the cognitive and emotional capacity you need to be a good writer -- because you’ll learn what moves people to take action.
Empathy: As the saying goes, no one cares how much you know until they know you care. A lack of empathy for others, especially for the reader, is to blame for most of the bad writing in the world. It leads to pompous drivel. To be a good writer, you must be able to get inside the heads and hearts of others; you must get outside of yourself.
This will allow you to do two important things: One, say something interesting because you are able to juxtapose the thoughts of others with your own thoughts (and putting together things in novel ways is the foundation of creativity). And two, tap into the emotional intelligence that fuels all good writing.
Economy: It takes effort to be succinct, but your reader will appreciate it. Never use three words when one will do. Don’t say the same thing twice in a different way. Don’t write a preamble before getting to the heart of the matter. Unless there is a reason not to, stick to simple Anglo-Saxon words and eschew the Latin and Norman French words that have crept into English. Say “eat” instead of “ingest;” “goodness” instead of “probity," “rise” instead of “ascend.” And when you’ve said what you want to say, stop. Read Hemingway -- especially his early books -- for examples of economical writing at its best.
There are as many ways to write well as there are good writers. The main thing is to find a path to good writing that works for you -- because nothing is more important to success in business or in life. Thinking clearly is fundamental to success in any venture, and learning how to write will teach you how to think.