Whether it be writing your essay, submitting your college letter, preparing for a debate, or presenting in front of your coworkers, having some level of writing skills will make the difference in that grade, that promotion, that presentation and that opportunity.
If you’re a student, I can help you. If you’re not a student, I can also help you. But we won't be using language the same, matter of fact, it has a whole different purpose, and subsequently different methods to achieve very different goals. How come? Hasn’t the training of writing countless creative writing essays, letters or persuasive arguments been preparing sufficiently?
Actually, the writing we have been taught through years of schooling, is destroying your chances in life beyond school. What do I mean? This concept has been best described and taught by Larry McEnerney, director of the University of Chicago’s Writing Program. He argues that we have been writing in school to demonstrate a sufficient level of understanding by use of background, explanations, examples, justifications and critique. However, the person(s) reading our work have always been our teachers (who are paid to read our work).
Now that we’re graduated, who is being paid to read our work? Chances are, there needs to be other external forms of motivation for readers to read what you produce, or even listen to what you have to say. We all lead busy multi-faceted lives, and our time is our most valuable asset. Writers have the added challenge of producing a piece of text that not only is clear, coherent, organised and persuasive, but most of all, valuable to their audience. We reach them by adding value to their lives. Businesses know this already, as products themselves have value-added, or middle-men add value to consumers by delivering these products faster, cheaper and more conveniently.
Without this added value, the outcome can be disastrous, if the purpose of our writing is intended for any other person but ourselves. Why do I say this? We run the risk of failing, not being accepted to your first choice college or program, losing the debate, not getting that promotion, and not acquiring that investment for your organisation. To get the results we want, it must have value to our intended audience.
Below, is a simple step by step process you can adapt today to improve your writing:
1. Know who your target audience/ reader is and tailor your writing to them.
Stay away from generalisations, we want our message or our argument to have an impact and create value in their lives. To do this, we need to research who is our specified target audience, what are some problems they face, and then come up with solutions to give them.
2. Communicate value.
How to do this? Earlier we talked about why this is necessary, now I can help you achieve this. Start by identifying prominent and relevant problems facing that target group, and tailor your argument to solve this. You can use the problem-solution approach alone or in tandem with the cost-benefit analysis.
When it comes to communicating the problem, be sure to use words that effectively paint that situation: creating a sense of urgency, instability, trouble, expense, red flag, anomaly, inconsistency etc.
3. Use the jargon that your audience will understand and appreciate.
The language style used to write an academic paper is not the same as if writing a business proposal, a fictional book or a news report. Once you know the words that make your group click, the gateways (and their minds and/or pockets) are open for you.
Not only this, our entire argument should be coherent and have an order, and this is where flow or transition words can be utilised, such as: however, although, but, and, nevertheless, in addition, also, moreover etc. More of this can be accessed online, and I especially like this compilation by the Michigan State University.
Now we know what we can do right now to improve our writing to get the results we want, but what can we do over a period of time to improve our writing?
4. Writing better comes from reading better.
Are you interested in economics? Read Milton Freidman’s work, Thomas Sowell and Friedrich Hayek. Read from those that you admire and actively observe how they use words, facts and statements to express their argument, hence becoming some of the most cited and revered writers in their field. Interrogate when you read, challenge their assumptions and really think about what they are proposing.
Use this helpful link to download any book, and start reading:
5. What if you don’t like reading, listen!
There’s tons of podcasts and audiobooks out there. Whatever field you’re in, there’s writers paving the heavy road, leaving great examples and inspiration for us all.
6. Most of all, your writing will improve the more you write.
Invest in a journal, get used to expressing yourself formally and clearly. Expand your vocabulary, there’s so many individual words that’ll save you an entire phrase or sentence, saving you time on your presentation and having more of an impact on your audience.
Your words are powerful, don’t just write from personal views or opinions, unless of course this is called for. But do be warned, we're living in an era of sensational journalism, cancel culture and radical and dangerous ideologies; our words must be always backed up with valid facts and data. You’d be more credible, earn the respect of those in your field, and influence your audience in the end, by either challenging their thinking, changing their thinking or both.
I understand that none of what I’m telling you is new or unique, as there’s hundreds of articles out there with excellent tips. However, I view writing as an indispensable skill that is lost among us, and this can hopefully contribute to its revival.
McEnerney, Larry. 2014. Leadership Lab: The Craft Of Writing Effectively. Video. Youtube: University of Chicago, Social Sciences.
"Transition Words". 2020. Msu.Edu. https://msu.edu/~jdowell/135/transw.html.