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Have you ever stopped to think about how important writing is to your daily work? With the exception of a few fields, most of us are responsible for communicating via email. What’s more: We may be asked to write proposals, add pages to a handbook, or create a text-heavy deck for presenting a new idea. Plus, you may even have to submit a writing sample for a future job.

So while you may not be a “writer” by trade, the number of things you have to get across in writing every single day is not insubstantial.

That means you not only want to make sure you’re using “its” and “it’s” correctly, but you also want to check off a few other “writerly” boxes.

Because if you don’t, you end up sending emails like this:

Hi Lori,

I got the memo you’re Team sent over and I took the compunction to look it over a few times to make sure that I missed not a single solitary point because I do not think it would be helpful to anyone in my Department to point out items I forgot to touch upon in my response to your faculty and find a new way, that’s why it has taken me time to get back to you.

I hope you had a good weekend: I wonder if we can set up a time to speak on the telephone. There are certain particular matters I wish to discuss in great detail if you fancy a conversation.

Thanks,

Ben

OK, this might be an exaggeration. But it’s not that far off.

So, how would you fix it? And how do you fix your writing going forward (without having to put in hours of work?). How do you become a stronger speaker and writer? It’s actually not that hard—start working through this checklist and you’ll become a better writer in no time.


Are There Run-on Sentences?

If you’re unsure, read aloud and make sure you—and a colleague—can follow what you’re trying to say. Unless you’re an advanced writer with a knack for lengthy, complex lines, opt for short, straightforward sentences.

In the example above, the first sentence is a run-on (which is why you probably felt lost from the beginning).

Here’s how it should read:

I received the memo your team sent over, and I took the opportunity to look it over a few times so I didn’t miss any crucial details. I don’t want to create extra work for anyone in my department—or create additional things for your crew to tackle. Apologies for my delayed response; I hope you understand how much attention I wanted to give this before offering feedback.


Is What You’re Saying Clear?

Fitting in strong vocab words is great, but only if you’re positive you’re using them correctly. It’s better to have command of your writing with words you know, rather than throwing in a big one and hoping it’ll make you look smart. And if it’s a blatant misuse—such as with compunction above—well, that’s really bad.


Is the Writing Conversational?

Of course, depending on the item, you won’t want to go too casual, but you also don’t want your words to read too stiffly or sound extremely formal, particularly if you don’t wish to carry on that façade throughout what could be an ongoing exchange.

Using phrases like “I wish to discuss,” “if you fancy,” and never using contractions makes for stuffy writing, and unless your job absolutely requires it, you’ll come across as more approachable (read: a human being) if you work on writing conversationally.


Do You Have Transitions in Place as Necessary?

Read it aloud and check that the jump from one paragraph to the next makes sense and flows nicely.

While it’s all fine and well to open a Monday morning email with a note about the weekend, it feels weird when it’s dropped into the middle of an email—the way it is above.


Are You Using the Correct Punctuation?

Do you know the difference between a semi-colon and a colon? Are you using commas consistently (oxford commas throughout if that’s your preference)?

There are a number of issues with this: “I hope you had a good weekend: I wonder if we can set up a time to speak on the telephone”—but at the top is the incorrect use of the colon.


Check Your Homophones

You know, those words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. (Some examples: they’re, there, their.)

Or, in the example above, you might’ve caught the you’re/your mistake.


Is Your Capitalization Correct?

This is a tricky one, and lots of people mistakenly capitalize common nouns, when only proper should be capitalized.

Neither team nor department need to be capitalized in this email. They are common nouns—not proper ones.



That feels easy enough, right? Well, here’s what this email would look like if Fictional Ben took this advice:

Hi Lori,

I hope you had a good weekend!

I received the memo your team sent over, and I took the opportunity to look it over a few times so I didn’t miss any crucial details. I don’t want to create extra work for anyone in my department—or create additional things for your crew to tackle. Apologies for my delayed response; I hope you understand how much attention I wanted to give this before offering feedback.

Are you free this week to hop on a quick call to discuss?

Thanks,

Ben



You don’t need to be the best ever writer—that’s not the goal here. But practically every industry appreciates people who know how to string together grammatically correct sentences and share their ideas clearly. It makes you a better emailer, a better presenter, a better job searcher, and overall, a better communicator.