QI've been told to work on my written communication. I'm confused, because I thought I was a good writer, and I'm not sure what needs to improve. What suggestions do you have?
AKnow the mechanics of writing, know your audience, and find your voice.
The inner game
It's tough to face criticism, especially for something you think you do well. If you feel angry or dismissive, remind yourself that need for improvement doesn't indicate failure or have any other negative connotation, and that honest feedback is a gift that will help you improve on a key professional skill. This perspective will prepare you to seek additional, more detailed feedback.
Then assess your skills. You may be too close to your writing to have a realistic view, so ask people whose writing you respect. Use the feedback to make a list of the areas for improvement you identify.
The needs of your audience may vary depending on their role in the company and the type of document you're creating. If you aren't considering this when you prepare a document, then you're likely to miss the mark.
Finally, focus on clarifying your message and developing your own voice in communicating. Again, notice the communication style of others whom you find to be effective, and identify the factors that make their style work.
The outer game
There are many ways to build your writing skills from a technical perspective. In addition to business writing seminars or other classes, look for online sources that focus on the aspects that you need to improve. These may include punctuation, spelling or grammar. For example, Stephen Wilbers writes a column that focuses on aspects of effective writing. Other resources offer ways to build vocabulary. Take on one aspect at a time rather than trying to do too much at once.
Plan your writing before you start. Think about the needs of your audience, clarify the message that you want to communicate, and then determine the format that will be most effective. Get in the habit of preparing an outline to guide your writing so that you maintain focus. This will help with documents as varied as technical articles and e-mails.
Develop processes to check your work. Proofreading and editing are essential aspects of producing a quality document. Find others to help, especially with documents that are going to a high-profile audience. If time permits, build in time to set your document aside so that you can come back to it with fresh eyes, and look for typos by starting at the end of your document and working your way to the beginning -- it can help break free of seeing what you expect to see.
Above all, to become a better writer, do a lot of reading. Experiencing others' writing can broaden your vision for what your writing can become. This'll help you develop a distinctive style that will make your writing stand out.
The last word
Writing skills can be built; understanding your audience and finding your own voice will lead you to success with your written communication at work.