Writing is a part of our everyday lives from early on. We write during our scholastic careers—narrative essays, creative endeavors, research papers, and academic arguments—and we keep on writing as we delve into our professional careers, in the form of resumes and cover letters, and on to corporate and/or creative proposals. Not to mention emails, texts, white papers, and presentations. Writing enables us to express everything from emotions and ideas, to facts and truths, and also serves to establish our credibility, or ethos, along the way. We are often judged by our writing long before people meet us, if they ever do in our online world.
Writing, like most processes, takes time and commitment to master. Whether creative, academic, or professional in nature, writing involves planning, reflection, and revision. It requires one to pinpoint a main idea and stick to it. If your writing is ambiguous, or full of abstractions, it will leave your audience confused and unclear about your message, as in the case of President Trump’s covfefe tweet. When it comes to communication, the key is to state what you have to say in clear and concise terms, and to use concrete details—facts and figures—to complement and affirm your message.
I have been a writing professor for the last decade plus, so it’s likely that I am biased when it comes to quality writing, but I am also realistic. Not everyone is going to be the next Hemingway, but all deserve to be understood. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” If you have critical content to share, it’s worth taking the time to do so accurately so that an exchange does in fact occur.
Whether you are drafting an email, proposal, or presentation, your first step is to formulate a thesis, or main idea. Keep it simple and specific. If you are not sure of your main idea, it’s likely that it is still developing. Give it time. Flesh it out. Rough drafts provide you with the occasion and space to get your thoughts down so that you may fine tune them into something meaningful. The best time to start the planning phase is when you receive an assignment or an idea grips you. Allow a concept to percolate. Often, getting points down—on paper or on a computer—frees up your mind to connect the dots and strengthen your objective.
Reflection is a key component of impactful writing. It is the critical thinking aspect of the writing process. It enables you to consider what you are communicating, who your audience is, why you are communicating a particular idea or point, and what you expect as a result of your communication. Writing is challenging because it is thinking; it necessitates clarity of thought and craft if your audience is to receive what you have to share.
The reflection stage is what makes or breaks writing; that is, you may realize that there’s no point to what you are trying to impart, or that it’s too pretentious, or that it’s not the right time to share it. If on the other hand the reflection stage strengthens your message and mission, then it’s time to ponder what you expect as a result of your communication: do you seek a direct answer, an action, consideration? Knowing what you anticipate will enable you to hone in on the correct tone and form to use.
Writing tends to sharpen and flourish via revision, regardless of an author’s love or hate relationship with it. Revision is a vital stage in the writing process. There are no masterpieces without insightful and careful revision. There is also no exact science or method to the revision process. Some revise on the computer, others in print; some use colored pens/pencils to markup drafts, while others use the cut/paste function in Word to manipulate their prose. The key is to take all into consideration, from your message, to your examples, to the tone, organization, clarity, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. If you are not adept when it comes to grammar, test out programs such as Grammarly, and also use Word’s features, such as thesaurus and spellcheck. When in doubt, look a word up in any of the numerous online dictionaries. Do not get lazy; every little nuance counts when it comes to writing, especially if you are sharing it with others. There are tons of grammar police out there waiting to pounce on poorly-constructed prose. For reference, I’ve written a few articles that offer grammar tips: The Guide to Common Grammar Crimes & Tips to Solve Them and Grammar Matters. When you believe that your revision process is complete, put down your writing and pick it back up a few hours later for a final review. Time and distance often brings clarity when it comes to the editing process.
Your writing should always answer who, what, when, where, and why, and it should do so with some level of authority. Strive to be creative, aim to be professional, but most importantly, communicate what it is that you set out to share. While meandering is joyful at times, it is not always appreciated when it comes to communication. The reward of effective writing is that it possesses the power to impact and inspire readers in incredible ways, so be sure to make every word count!